A Crack In The Glass Ceiling

A Crack In The Glass Ceiling

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It is fitting that the first woman chosen to lead a Fortune 50 company was number 1 on Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business only eight months ago. On Monday, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) named Carly Fiorina its new president and chief executive.

Fiorina comes from Lucent Technologies Inc. where she was Group President of their Global Service Provider business, which accounts for 60% of Lucent’s revenue. As Executive Vice President of Corporate Operations for Lucent Technologies, she led Lucent’s launch and IPO and its final spin-off from AT&T.

A powerful executive in a key company of a major industry, Fiorina was perfectly positioned to be a top contender for the position when HP announced its executive search last March. As an outsider, she was better positioned as the company moved to lose its ‘stodgy’ reputation than were any of the talented executives who had come up through the organization at HP.

Learning At Lucent

Fiorina was handpicked By Rich McGinn to be the company’s first executive vice president of corporate operations and to lead Lucent Technologies IPO. Although acknowledged for her sales skills and ability to build consensus, Fiorina was not a financial expert. She learned by doing, thought about thing from her own unique perspective, and was bright enough to pull it off.

Her career path was non-traditional, by chance more than design. She started in law school, but dropped out after a year. She worked as a receptionist and a teacher before moving into sales at AT&T in 1980. She moved up through the AT&T organization and has said, I’ve never foreseen a path for myself, but I’ve always seized whatever opportunities presented themselves. In 1989 she moved to the equipment side of AT&T and she became the first female officer in AT&T’s network systems business in 1992, working for Rich McGinn.

A Good Start

Frequently moved around the world while growing up, she had the opportunity to learn from many cultures. Fiorina’s father, an intellectually rigorous law professor, raised Carly, her brother, and her sister to speak their minds and to accept no limits. That may explain her career decision to move from the service side of AT&T to Network Systems, the equipment division. I went because it was a huge challenge, completely male dominated, and outside everything I’d experienced.

Her mother, a painter, and the inspiration behind the Lucent logo, taught Carly the power of positive attitude and gave her a zest for life. In another era (she) would have been a wonderful businesswoman, says Fiorina.

On to Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard clearly wanted as its new CEO someone from the outside who could shake things up a little. They are at an important crossroads in the company as they divest themselves of their test and measurement business to focus on the Internet opportunity facing their computer unit.

Current HP CEO Lew Platt said in a recent interview One of the things we concluded was that we were just not moving quickly enough. Key executives at HP considered possible candidates for the top job, like Ann Livermore, were passed over because of their association with the conservative management style that has characterized HP in the past. Fiorina was selected, in part, for her perceived ability to impart Speed and a sense of urgency to HP’s move into the Internet. The Internet age implies Internet speed, she said Clearly we need to reinvigorate things here.

Platt will remain chairman until the end of the year. Former HP executive Richard Hackborn will replace him.

Meanwhile Back At Lucent

Carly Fiorina had often been mentioned as a possible successor for Rich McGinn. Her departure will open that position to several other contenders. Among these is Pat Russo, executive vice president of corporate staff operations for Lucent (see sidebar). She could become the second woman to head a Fortune 50 company and put a bigger crack in the glass ceiling.

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