Fiorina Comments On Public Firing

Tells Lesley Stahl She Never Saw It Coming

If it sounds like Hewlett-Packard's board was dysfunctional during Pattie Dunn's tenure, it was just as bad over a year ago when Carly Fiorina was CEO and Board Chairman, and considered the most powerful woman in American business. Last February, Carly was fired - abruptly and very publicly - with striking parallels with what happened to Pattie Dunn.

That they're both on the Oct. 8 edition of 60 Minutes is due to a quirk of timing in that Dunn's criminal charges and Carly's memoir have come out at the same time. And it's ironic that both women were forced out of HP and are lashing out at some members of the male-dominated board.

So why was Carly Fiornia fired? She tells her version of the story in her book called "Tough Choices." She talked about it for the first time with correspondent Lesley Stahl.

Asked why the board fired her, Fiorina tells Stahl, "You know, Lesley, I wish I could answer the question: 'Why did the board fire me?' I can't. They never had a conversation with me."

"It was just (clap) out the door," Stahl asks?

"That's right," Fiorina replies.

"It was that cold?" Stahl asks?

"That's exactly what happened," Fiorina says.

She says she felt devastated and hurt by the sudden firing.

One reason she was so blindsided, she says, is because after five years of her leadership, the company was on a roll.

"A company that went from not being in the top 25 innovators in the world, to leaping up to number three," Fiorina says. "A company that was profitable in every business line. A company who's brand had gone from stodgy, white, man, honestly - that's what the research said - to leading edge, relevant. This was a company transformed, from a laggard to a leader."

And transformed, she says, because of her strategies, her vision, and her management skills. So when the board of directors showed her the door, she hadn't seen it coming.

"None of the normal business reasons apply, I know that. There were no improprieties. There were no ethics issues," Fiorina tells Stahl. "So I can only conclude that it was personal in some way. Certainly, the way it was done was personal."

Carly's book documents it all: from her hiring, to the firing, which was like a public beheading - a devastating rebuke after an almost flawless career. By her own telling, she was always driven. First, when she wanted to be a concert pianist and practiced every day for hours and hours; then at Stanford, where she graduated with honors.

In college, she took classic Greek so she could read Aristotle in the original; on top of that, she also took German and Italian.

"Once I dive in, I dive in all the way," she says.

That's what she did at AT&T, where she started out as an entry-level sales rep. She worked her way up, eventually directing the then largest initial public offering in history, the $3-billion dollar spin-off of Lucent Technologies.

That deal put her on the map, turning her into a celebrity CEO who everyone just called "Carly." And it led to her hiring at Hewlett-Packard in 1999. She was just 44, the first woman to lead a company that big.

Founded in a garage during the depression by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the once-dominant HP fell behind in the 1990s and the board of directors wanted Carly to come in and shake things up. But she came up against a culture that didn't want to be changed.

"If someone offered a new idea, people would say, 'Oh, we don't do it that way. It's not the HP way.' So it became a shield against change," Fiorina explains.

She persevered, though, and in time orchestrated a huge change: the merger with Compaq.