Hillary Clinton won't be the first female president of the United States if Carly Fiorina has anything to say about it. Fiorina is expected to officially announce her candidacy for the White House next month. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO badly trails her presumed rivals when it comes to name recognition, so to have any chance at the Oval Office she will need to court young voters and remind allies in Silicon Valley that she stills carries celebrity status, not to mention a certain notoriety, in the business world.
Carleton S. Fiorina, 60, will formally announce her Republican candidacy online on May 4 and follow that up with a conference call with the national press corps, according to the Wall Street Journal. She's also releasing a new book and delivering a speech at Techcrunch's Disrupt NY conference on May 5, evidence that she's launching a public relations campaign that aims to explain to tech-savvy young Americans what, exactly, she stands for.
Fiorina was the highly visible CEO of HP from 1999 until 2005, when she was forced out after an ugly split with the board of directors. While she was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company and in 2004 ranked 10th on Forbes magazine's list of most powerful women, her tenure at HP is sill the subject of debate nearly a decade after her departure.
Fiorina oversaw HP operations during the dot-com bubble burst, a time when tens of thousands of tech employees lost their jobs and industry revenue sank across the board. She's perhaps most remembered for pursuing the controversial merger with Compaq Computer, an HP competitor (the deal was announced exactly one week before 9/11). The acquisition was universally panned at the time. But it should now be viewed as a success, Fiorina told CNN in February, going on to say she doubled HP's growth while quadrupling revenue during a difficult time.
Ultimately, though, by putting together the Compaq deal, Fiorina was the architect of her own downfall. The deal rankled the board of directors and members of the Hewlett family, who pushed her out of the company in 2005. Other HP insiders don't seem to look back on their years with Fiorina fondly, either. “She did great damage to a great company and I don't want to see her do damage to a great country,” Jason Burnett, the grandson of HP co-founder David Packard, told CNN.
Tech industry millionaires and billionaires have become some of the most valuable donors to recent presidential campaigns. Fiorina's best chance at winning some of those dollars away from the Hillary Clintons and Rand Pauls of the race might be to highlight her long history of advocating for the expansion of the H-1B visa program. The program allows American companies to employ foreign workers for specialty occupations. Clinton, Paul, Marco Rubio and other candidates have also expressed their support for increasing the allotted number of visas, but Fiorina has been an advocate for globalization since before many of her fellow candidates, particularly in the GOP, arrived on the national scene.
“There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore. We have to compete for jobs as a nation,” she said at a 2004 meeting between technology CEOs, as quoted by the Register. Those remarks came nearly 10 years before Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs started using their clout to lobby for immigration reform.
Whether those dollars would be enough to propel Fiorina into the White House seems unlikely. A February poll among voters in New Hampshire, a crucial primary state, determined that only 1 percent of Republican voters named Fiorina as their first-choice candidate.
She'll also be hampered by the lack of political connections that come with never having held elected office. She mounted a failed Senate campaign in 2010, taking a decisive loss to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Before that Fiorina worked for John McCain's Republican campaign in 2008. Members of her former staff seemed relieved when Sarah Palin was ultimately selected as running mate, according to HP emails obtained by CNN.
“I said when Carly was mentioned as a possible running mate with John McCain, he's a war hero and former POW,” one person wrote. “I think he's suffered enough already.”