Did Carly Fiorina really ruin HP?

"When Carly joined HP, she was billed as a next-gen visionary and we all were supportive," says Bill Van Eron, CMO of Innovation & Market Value Creation at Headwaters Marketing. Van Eron worked at HP for 23 years, from 1978 through 2001.

Notice the year he quit coincides with a certain someone's command.

"That had to be around 1998 or so as I noticed a sense of continuance initially but by the year 1999 or 2000, it was like most managers were deer in the headlights," says Van Eron. "Thankfully I never relied on managers to do my strategic work so I was still breathing life into the human attributes that still defined a better HP empathy, quality/value, integrity.

"I also understood the ecosystem that now defines markets and was able to realize some of the best ROI ever in HP's history. They seemed to only see the huge financial returns whereas I recall when I defined the strategy for an HP Education Program around 1995, I got a letter from Dave Packard thanking me that reflected greater strategic and values alignment that offered between education and HP. That association is lost today and [it] died when Carly took over."


How's this different from her predecessors?

Van Eron goes on to discuss what great people HP's founders were and how wonderful it was to work with them.

"I started in HP in early 1978 and witnessed firsthand the enormous positive impact Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard had on the company," said Van Eron. "They were visionary, humble, personable, trustworthy and trusting. It would be hard back then to have found one employee that was anything less than passionate about working there. One hundred percent [of employees] bought in and that extended out to how the world saw HP as America's most admired company."

But Van Eron brings up an interesting point, noting that even though Fiorina was an unpleasant presence at HP, Van Eron doesn't hold her accountable for the company's decline.

"Saying that she ran HP into the ground is an overstatement and it isn't true," says Van Eron, adding that if we promote that message we risk "having the real issues not heard."

But it's not just personality


The other real issues responsible for HP's decline have little or nothing to do with Fiorina, like the burst of the dot com bubble, which was happening at full speed when she signed on. And let's not forget Léo Apotheker, who ran HP for barely a year between September 2010 and September 2011. During his turbulent tenure, HP's stock fell by nearly 40%. You can't rightly blame Fiorina for those numbers. She was already five years out the door.

"Bottom line: No, Carly Florina did not ruin HP. The CEO who got the company into its current mess is Leo Apotheker, but Meg Whitman was on the board during his tenure and her 'turnaround' has not been effective," says Silicon Valley-based management consultant Steve Tobak. "I don't see how Whitman's technical tactic of splitting HP in two will benefit the company's core problem: that virtually all of its businesses are undifferentiated and essentially losing market share to a long list of heavy-duty competitors - Oracle, Amazon, and Microsoft, to name a few - that are all growing, not contracting."

Fiorina rocked the boat in unsteady waters, but she didn't sink the ship.