Sometimes integrity matters more than results

Posted by on February 9, 2005

So I read today that HP fired controversial CEO Carly Fiorina. When in the human resources field, my wife Eleanor always had working for Hewlett-Packard (HP) as a career goal. They were a company that for many years refused to lay off a single employee, and they were legendary for treating employees fairly and for managers who would listen and value the opinions of those who worked for them. They were known for doing things right.

That all changed recently. As result of a desire to get the stock price up, HP’s board hired CEO Carly Fiorina nearly six years ago. And she changed everything. I believe the layoffs started before HP bought Compaq, the low-end computer company. But when they did buy Compaq, they had to get rid of thousands and thousands of employees over several years – for a merger that was a huge gamble, a gamble that eventually failed.

You can’t blame the whole thing on Fiorina. She gave the board of directors what most of them wanted at the time – something big. But at what cost?

From the Associated Press article on the subject by business writer Rachel Konrad (February 10, 2005):

But, observers say, HP lost more than expenses and thousands of employees during the process. Fiorina erased the employee-focused culture once known as the “HP way,” focused single-mindedly on quarterly profits, and alienated employees. That, business experts say, ultimately may be her lasting legacy.

“This was a company that was the essential model of innovation, a great model of leadership style. Everyone used this as a model for the integrity of the engineers,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean of the Yale School of Management. “No CEO uses HP as a model for anything now.”

Jesus said, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:26 NRSV)

People who sell out to “gain the whole world” usually end up losing the world along with their soul. In Carly’s case, she got a 21 million dollar severance package so it might look like she won after all, but she lost her job… and she destroyed a wonderful company and her own legacy.

What would you do in her place?

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