HP/COMPAQ: Carly in cruise control

HP/COMPAQ: Carly in cruise control

The proposed merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq announced Tuesday will arguably cement Carly Fiorina's position as the most powerful woman in IT.

What is more interesting is that this latest move would have been hard to pick earlier this year when speculation was abound that Fiorina was to be fired due to HP's lacklustre results.

After Fiorina first took over as CEO of HP on July 19, 1999 (replacing Lewis E. Platt) HP's results were up by 10 per cent and more for each quarter until November 2000 where the increase slowed down to less than 10 per cent.

By Q1 2001 revenues started to slide, down to US$11.9 million from $13.2 million in Q4 2000. In Q2 2001 revenue had further slid to $11.6 million, and in Q3 2001 it was down again to $10.1 million. Like the report figures, HP's share price also entered a downward spiral as did shareholder dividends, with earnings per share (EPS) dropping from $0.49 (Q3 2000) to $0.05 (Q3 2001).

Staff morale at HP has been falling along with the revenue with major job cuts taking place under Fiorina's leadership. In this year alone 1,700 HP employees were fired in January, later in April another 3,000 were given their marching orders, and now under the new company HP have proposed to cut another 15,000 staff members of HP and Compaq combined.

But despite this, Fiorina has managed to stay in the top job to become the leader of the second-largest PC company behind IBM. Total revenue for IBM over the last four reported quarters was US$90 billion, HP and Compaq's combined revenue comes in as a close second at $87.4 billion ($47 billion and $40.4 billion respectively).

Born in Austin, Texas, Fiorina, 46, has more than 20 years experience in the IT industry. At 25 she kicked off her career with an entry-level position at AT&T. Ten years later Fiorina was the company's first female officer. In another five years she was named head of North American operations. In October 1997, Fiorina was promoted to president of Lucent Technologies' Global Service Provider Business, where she expanded the company's international business and spearheaded the planning and execution of its initial public offering and subsequent spin-off from AT&T. She stayed in this role with Lucent until she moved to HP in 1999.

Fiorina holds a bachelor's degree in medieval history and philosophy from Stanford University (1976); an MBA from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, and a master of science degree from MIT's Sloan School. In July 2001, she was named an Honorary Fellow of the London Business School.

She is a member of the board of directors at Cisco Systems and also serves on the US China Board of Trade. She was previously a board member of the Kellogg Company and Merck & Company.

Photograph: HP's Carly Fiorina

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