Carly Fiorina and the Limits of Executive Ability

There has been much comment on Carly Fiorina’s tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard – some calling it a complete disaster, others calling it a success. For political purposes, what is most important to remember is that Fiorina was running neck and neck with Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010 until Boxer came out with an ad attacking Fiorina’s actions at Hewlett-Packard. To be sure, the Boxer ad was lurid but the bottom line is that it worked: there’s nothing a Democrat likes better than to run against the CEO of a large corporation. It just works perfectly: the former CEO is, of course, very rich and, also, probably made at least some decisions which can be second-guessed (or monstrously twisted) in hindsight. There really is no defense a GOPer can have in such a situation (Democrat CEO’s who run for office are not so handicapped – because the MSM simply won’t give the Evil CEO meme any play and, of course, the GOP is ill-positioned to attack CEO’s in the public mind).

There is an element, though, in Fiorina’s tenure which I think important for all of us to notice – from Bloomberg Politics:

Carly Fiorina said Sunday that neither she nor Hewlett-Packard should be faulted for the sales of millions of HP printers in Iran when such business was prohibited by U.S. law.

Appearing on Fox’s Fox News Sunday, Fiorina said that despite being the CEO of HP when the Iranian sales took place via a third party, she was unaware of them.

“First, HP, you need to remember, was larger than each of the 50 states,” Fiorina said. “It’s a larger budget than any one of our 50 states, and a global enterprise. And so it’s impossible to ensure that nothing wrong ever happens. The question is what do you do when you find out.”

“Are you saying you didn’t know about it?” host Chris Wallace asked.

“In fact, the SEC investigation proved that neither I nor anyone else in management knew about it…” she insisted…

There are two things which will make me doubt a statement:

1. The prior knowledge that the person is a habitual liar.

2. That the statement is just absurd from the get-go.

I have not seen any evidence that Ms. Fiorina is a habitual liar so I will not accuse her in this instance of being such. For the second part, it is not an absurd statement. Ms. Fiorina prefaces her answer by noting HP is larger than the 50 State governments. This is no exaggeration – HP has more than 300,000 employees and more than $110 billion in revenues. That revenue amount is about the same as the State of California; all other States go from “a lot less than HP” to “this would be HP’s chump change”. It should be noted that HP has a reputation for being one of the most honest companies out there – and for our Progressives, it is all squeaky clean on Progressive politics: even Greenpeace gives HP high marks. On the other hand, in 2014 HP had to fork over a $108 million fine because they were bribing officials in Russia, Poland and Mexico to secure contracts. To be sure, the bribe case was long after Fiorina left but I bring it up because it shows this point: it is highly unlikely that the CEO of HP has more than the haziest notion of what is going on, day by day, in HP operations.

The bottom line is that once an organization gets above a certain size, no one can really know what is going on. The boss only knows what his or her immediate subordinates choose to reveal. Of course, a diligent boss can harass the staff into providing more information, or taking more immediate action – but even then, only about things which occur to the boss. If the boss doesn’t take a mind to a particular issue and no one volunteers any information about it, it simply will not be known. The best executive in the world with the most noble motives simply will not be able to oversee the entirety of an organization once it is too large. And too large probably shows up above 10,000 people for most executives, and about 100,000 for the best. To put it in perspective – Douglas MacArthur had three armies under his command at the peak (6th, 8th and an Australian army); Dwight Eisenhower had 9 (1st, 3rd, 7th, 9th, 15th, a British, a Canadian, a French and an Airborne army). MacArthur nimbly moved his armies over thousands of square miles of ocean and land and no forces under his command ever lacked for any necessary item…Ike’s armies ran out of gas – as in gasoline – just when they could have finished the Germans off. MacArthur’s forces were small enough for him to keep control – Ike’s forces were so sprawling that no one was keeping tabs on making sure the supplies got there, regardless of any difficulties.

Human beings are not built for managing massive enterprises. We just can’t do it. We’re not smart enough or energetic enough. The fundamental problem with Big Government, Big Corporation or Big Anything is that no one can mind the store. No one can grasp the whole thing and make it go the desired course. You can by diligent efforts hammer it into getting a few desired things done, but you can’t watch and regulate the whole mass. If someone – or 10,000 someones – are goofing off out of 200,000 people, how can the boss possibly know? Only if something really bad happens. And the bad things will happen because people are people – in any aggregate of humanity there will be a subset which is stupid and/or corrupt.

With a private corporation it isn’t to terribly bad because the bad shows up faster and demands action sooner – or even the big bosses will be out of a job. With government, it is just terrible. You see, a bureaucrat at the VA gets paid the same whether he processes one claim or twenty claims in a day. There is no incentive – other than personal honor – for him to work diligently to process the twenty. And, so, very often only one gets done – and to make it even more hideous, that bureaucrat processing one a day, if he gets caught, is protected by civil service laws and contracts from being fired. This actually works out as an incentive to goof off.

Any candidate saying they are going to make government work is kidding us – and themselves – unless the primary action of reform is to make government smaller. At least in the sense of breaking it up into smaller entities which are easily accountable to the people’s elected representatives for performance. But best in the sense of just having a lot fewer bureaucrats. More of them merely means more of them to make mistakes – and less chance that anyone will catch the mistakes.

We laugh when we hear Obama’s claims of “I read it in the papers” when yet another disaster besets his Administration. And, true enough, some of Obama’s claims are laughable – but not all of them. For the simple reason that he probably really didn’t know until the story broke. Until the disaster happened, that is. But we don’t elect Presidents to not know what is happening – but we can only have a President in the know if the organization is small enough for him to keep an eye on. We’ll never have effective government until it is smaller – no matter who we place in the White House.

31 thoughts on “Carly Fiorina and the Limits of Executive Ability

  1. Retired Spook September 29, 2015 / 9:20 am

    Carly does a superb job of presenting herself in the best possible light. I’m not familiar with Bill Still, but Marc’s other two sources, Cenk Uygar and Lawrence O’Donnell are far left Progressives, with O’Donnell actually having described himself on air as a Socialist. O’Donnell’s interview with Jeffry Sonnenfeld makes it sound like Sonnenfeld hardly knows the Clintons when, in fact, Jeffry Sonnenfeld and Bill Clinton are long time friends. I’m normally loathe to attack the messenger, but in this case I tend to take what such people say with a grain of salt, somewhat akin to the hit piece on the Koch brothers in Rolling Stone, written by a former writer from Mother Jones. Some things just don’t pass the smell test. That said, I suspect the truth about Carly Fiorina lies somewhere in between. I think, to some extent, Fiorina has been used by the media to take down Donald Trump, and if those efforts are successful, they’ll throw her under the bus at the first opportunity. Just my 2 cents.

    • Marc Lee September 29, 2015 / 9:45 am

      I like your 2 cents. I was doing research on Fiorina with input from both sides of the political spectrum. The leftists are generally sources I don’t listen much to but they do call out the sources for their information to check and have a burning desire to uncover any dirt they can on conservative candidates, not just Fiorina. What is true is that we really must keep digging for answers. I had done the same kind of homework on Obama and knew how far left he was in spite of the lies and how superb a job he did of presenting himself as in the best possible and moderate light.

    • M. Noonan September 29, 2015 / 11:09 am

      To me, Fiorina has clear ability – and as far as it goes, I think she was a fine CEO of HP. If you take a look at the larger picture, the decisions she made or set in train worked out well for the company over the long haul. A lot of the disaster stuff laid at her door were just the overall situation in the economy…dot com bust and 9/11. But for our Democrats, the mere fact that she did lay off people while she was raking in a huge salary is really all that needs be said: the people will be rather unforgiving of that, especially among LIV (and truth be told, no CEO should make much money in any year when large lay offs occur – it is just unseemly: the theory offered for why CEOs have to make so much money is that they need an “ownership interest” in the firm. Ok. Fair enough – but the actual owner of a company in a down year is going to make a lot less money than usual). You are right that if she emerges as the GOP nominee, the MSM, shilling for Hillary, will hammer her on this issue as badly as they did Romney…and then after Hillary is sworn in, Carly will be yet another GOP winner of the Strange, New Respect Award…the MSM just loves them some defeated GOPers, after all.

      • Marc Lee September 29, 2015 / 11:52 am

        That’s what I’m afraid of. I was initially for Scott Walker because I figured if the unions had tried to intimidate him and the left recall him twice, if they had in dirt on him they surely would have slammed him with it. It’s really unfortunate that he did so poorly in the debates. And if she could not win election against Barbara Boxer because of the perceived corporate failing with the big bonus, what are her chances against Hillary? I don’t know but we can’t afford to lose under any circumstances.

  2. Cluster September 29, 2015 / 9:40 am

    Marc Lee is obviously a good foot soldier for the political elite who are doing their best to paint Fiorina as a failure, but Mr Lee is hardly in Ms Fiorina’s class in terms of personal achievement and overcoming personal hardship. In fact few are. Carly Fiorina has battled and won a fight against breast cancer, and has had to endure the premature death of a child.Two intense personal battles of which few people have had to endure, and two personal battles of which profoundly shape one’s focus, determination and world view. Lawrence O’Donnell and Mr. Sonnenfeld are not even in the same league as Carly Fiorina.

    The fact is, HP emerged from the collapse of the tech bubble in the early 2000’s and continues to to be one of the industry’s leaders in printer innovation and a good stock buy. Compare that to the current state of the country under the leadership of Obama and Clinton.

    • Marc Lee September 29, 2015 / 10:03 am

      Those are interesting guesses for which you have no basis. I’m a Marine Viet Nam veteran, conservative who cares deeply about this country. I am also disabled from a stroke in late 2006 which paralyzed my left side so I do understand a little about personal hardship. I’m interested in the truth behind each of the candidates and was initially very impressed with what Ms Fiorina had to say. She can have my sympathy vote but that does not make her qualified to lead this nation. I certainly do consider the sources for the information presented about her but that does not make it false information.

      • Cluster September 29, 2015 / 10:32 am

        Marc, anyone who offers up Lawrence O’Donnell and Cenk Uygar without context is suspect to me. In my opinion, progressives of every stripe are dishonorable people. They lie, cheat and steal to achieve their goals, and distort facts and demonize opponents along the way, and those are people who are dangerous to our republic and need to be defeated at all cost. I appreciate the personal hardships you have had to endure, but these are times where lines to be drawn and fought over, and we need to see our opponents with clear eyes. I also am suspect on the vetting process you say you went through with Obama. His record, or at least the record that is available for public consumption, is void of any substance.

  3. Cluster September 29, 2015 / 9:49 am

    Re: False Prophets, a subject of which I am glad that John Boehner brought up. When a political leader repeatedly lies to the electorate on an issue that profoundly impacts day to day lives, and then once that lie is revealed and that political leader shows no shame and in fact lies about their previous lies, I will submit to you that that is a false prophet. When a political leader stands in defiance of a reckless agenda as his constituencies demand, and then surrenders without a fight to that reckless agenda, I will submit to you that that is a false prophet. Obama has repeatedly lied to this country, and Boehner has surrendered at every opportunity. Both men are an embarrassment to this country and are false prophets.

    Conservatives need to “crawl over broken glass with knives in our teeth” to defeat radical jihadist progressive Democrats who are systematically destroying this country. This is what a principled American looks like:

    • Marc Lee September 29, 2015 / 11:17 am

      Excellent address, thanks for posting, I hadn’t seen it yet. He covers all the bases.

  4. Marc Lee September 29, 2015 / 11:40 am

    To Cluster. That Obama ran on the New Party ticket for Senator was a big red flag for me and his associations were such that, as Greta Van Susteren (who had to get a high level security clearance) stated that Obama would not have been able to get one.. As a sitting Senator, he actively went down to campaign for Raila Odinga in Kenya. Had he been a white, conservative candidate the media would have demolished him. He did not offer that he had been known by any other name so it was very difficult at first to go back and look for information. But what was known was very suspect even then. What Fiorina has done or not done since HP is relevant as well as who or what she supports and her associations. I assume each one of these sources has some kind of bias one way or the other about her and take that into consideration when checking for back up for their claims. But rather than shoot the messenger, show where their facts are in error. I’m just as willing to know and post that.

    • Cluster September 29, 2015 / 12:00 pm

      Every CEO has to make tough decisions in regards to labor and is charged with the responsibility to keep their company viable and on a trajectory that strengthens value and earnings. Carly did a fine job navigating the collapse of the tech bubble and uncertain economic conditions that 9/11 presented, and set HP up to be the strong company it is today. In that light, she was a success. If you want to wade through the minutiae of the failures during her tenure, have at it. I am not interested.

      • M. Noonan September 29, 2015 / 2:14 pm

        My larger point, of course, is that the beast was just too big – it couldn’t really be managed. All Carly ever knew at HP was whatever someone told her, or what she took a direct interest in. Everything else was just going along…and if anyone down the line was crooked, no one would catch it until disaster struck.

        The GOP needs to start pointing out the real flaws in the system – to educate the American people on the impossibility of something as large as the US government being responsive to the will of the people. Not making an argument, at this point, to end any particular activity, but merely pointing out that the good intended isn’t happening because there’s no way for those in charge to make sure it actually happens.

        We all want food for the poor. And so we have SNAP. SNAP claims to be one of the lowest fraud rate programs out there – but there is still quite a lot of fraud in the system (and there are indications there is far more fraud than SNAP admits). More importantly, no one can really ever know how much fraud there is…and even one cent of fraud means one cent less in food for the people who really need it. The solution is to not have SNAP – no SNAP, no SNAP fraud, at all. Just provide cash grants to well known, reputable food banks so they are always 100% stocked and allow the people who run them – who know the poor – to dispense whatever food is necessary to people who ask for it. We can also make sure, then, that no one on SNAP is getting cheetos and steaks…food banks don’t provide a lot of things like that, after all. Periodically audit the providers to make sure they are actually using the money for food and reasonable overhead. Boom. Done. Easy for Uncle Sam to keep tabs on, the poor get all the food they can eat, everyone is happy…but, alas!, no room for an army of bureaucrats who donate to politicians, right?

      • Cluster September 29, 2015 / 2:46 pm

        The GOP needs to start pointing out the real flaws in the system – to educate the American people on the impossibility of something as large as the US government being responsive to the will of the people.

        Watch the speech Cruz gave on the Senate floor which is linked below. He speaks very clearly on what is wrong with Washington.

  5. Bob Eisenhower September 29, 2015 / 3:30 pm

    I’ve been very disappointed at Carly’s handling of a misstep this last week or two. I do consider her our best contender but her performance on the Sunday talking heads shows makes me wonder.

    We all know the details. She kind of overstated events in the PP videos. Everyone, from the s**theads at MSNBC to the WSJ and Fox vetted that her description was significantly wrong and she doubled-down on the mistake, claiming she saw firsthand video of the points in dispute.

    Prior to her telling Chris Wallace she’s seen the video I figured she’d made a mistake and could apologize and move on. But claiming she saw it herself seems a lie, one that can only be undone by producing the video no one else can find.

    This minor debate mistake has turned into her first crisis and she did not handle it well. I am very sad.

    • Cluster September 29, 2015 / 4:50 pm

      Bob, you’re doing exactly what the Dems, the media and the establishment want you to do, and that is focus on Fiorina and not PP. The video does exist, but it is a video depicting the scene described by the lady who witnessed it. Whether or not the footage is authentic is immaterial. The FACT is that PP does perform late term abortions, and does extract organs from fully formed human babies. PP does not deny it, the media does not deny it, the Democrats do not deny it, and that is where the focus needs to remain.

      Remember, our opponents are not decent human beings. They are dangerous to our republic and must be obliterated. Keep in mind, this is a political party that defends the murder of young babies and the extraction of their organs for resale. This is a party that looks the other way when young boys are systemically raped. This is a party that defends Sharia law when convenient for political purposes. This is a party that is actively governing against the desires of decent Americans. Physical violence against them may be required considering their despicable behavior as most recently displayed when PP supporters threw condoms at Fiorina.

      • Bob Eisenhower September 29, 2015 / 6:22 pm


        These are two separate topics.

        The despicable things done by PP should be decried at every opportunity.

        But a person describing a video they saw is not the same thing as Carly stating she, herself, saw the video, as she did to Chris Wallace.

        I’m not bothered she lied, everyone lies at one time or another and politicians lie more than most. My problem is that it was a STUPID lie, a lie that would have been easily avoided.

        I still like Carly above all others but I hope this is not indicative of how she handles being caught in a tough situation.

      • Cluster September 29, 2015 / 6:31 pm

        Understand. I will call it an exaggeration of the facts, and knowing the tactics of the leftist media who are doing their best to distort this issue just like the others, I give Carly a complete pass. Keep the focus on the Democrats support of late term abortion and the extraction of organs for resale, and remind Americans of that every hour of every day. That is extreme and and an assault on our national character. Stay focused on who our opponent is.

      • Bob Eisenhower September 29, 2015 / 7:06 pm

        It is not an exaggeration to say you personally watched a video everyone, even conservative new operations, researched and found to be lacking.

    • M. Noonan September 29, 2015 / 6:28 pm

      The bottom line is that the PP videos are incapable of being exaggerated – I don’t buy any MSM stories saying that anyone can misrepresent them in any way, shape or form. Right at the get-go, we have a PP person saying they want to find “less crunchy” ways to kill children in order to make their parts more valuable on the market. That is all anyone needs to know – any any attempt to exaggerate from there would be superfluous.

      The reason the MSM is so determined to downplay this – and Fox News is MSM to the core – is because they simply don’t want to talk about it. Carly has ripped the mask off here – she’s a clearly well-educated, highly articulate woman and she’s saying the plain, honest truth: elective abortion is savagery. No one in honesty can argue against this – and no one can argue against the actual content of the PP videos. And so flat out, bald faced lies are the only way to go…”heavily edited”…as if all video presentations aren’t heavily edited. As if the raw video is not available. As if there’s some way to make lurid the story of how human body parts are sold for money.

      No one in the Establishment wants to talk about this because to talk honestly about abortion is to ban abortion. Period. End of story. They want this buried – and they want Carly out of the race, to make sure the truth about abortion stays buried.

      • Bob Eisenhower September 29, 2015 / 7:04 pm

        My issue is not with exaggeration. Also, while I take great issue with PP, it isn’t the issue I’m talking about here.

        Friendly media (WSJ and Fox News) researched and found her statements to be exaggerations. Her best option would be to say, “Hey, I feel passionate about the murder of children and maybe overstated the case.” Instead, she said she personally saw the video as she described it. That is stupid. And disappointing.

      • Amazona September 29, 2015 / 7:46 pm

        I’m with Bob on this. No matter how much I like Fiorina, truth is truth, and we can’t have a candidate who is merely “truthy”. Yes, own up to a mistake, and move on.

        I am not saying she is a liar, just that she handled this situation badly—–and the presidency is just one pitfall and bad situation after another. Yes, she did shift the debate, yes she did rip the mask off the PP lies, but she also gave PP supporters a rallying cry, as they can point to her error and build on it, claiming that all other comments about all other videos are equally false.

        And I think we need to be consistent and not just give people a pass because we like them. Identity politics is identity politics, R or D.

        I don’t think this should disqualify her, but I think it does show a side of her I don’t really like very much. I have never seen her as a presidential candidate, anyway, but a good VP. With all of her strengths, I think she would be the most powerful and influential and helpful VP in our history, but no one is going to impress me as more qualified than Ted Cruz, at least unless something really damaging comes up about him.

      • M. Noonan September 30, 2015 / 12:22 pm

        It is important for GOPers to be absolutely accurate at all times – because the MSM is entirely unforgiving of even the most honest mistakes we make. But the bottom line for me is that one cannot exaggerate the PP videos.

    • Amazona September 29, 2015 / 8:41 pm

      Maybe he wants her in long enough to be a VP consideration…………

  6. Cluster September 30, 2015 / 7:46 am

    I think the most dangerous characteristic of our opponents, aside from the lying and demonizing, is the willingness to ignore actual results. How long has Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton been fighting for the middle class? For lower income families? For the children?? Over the last 7 years, under imposed progressive policies, the rich have gotten richer:

    And the poor have gotten poorer:

    I had a progressive tell me one time that intent was all that mattered. As long as a politician said the right things, and had good intentions, well then that is all that is expected of them.

    • Retired Spook September 30, 2015 / 7:59 am

      I had a progressive tell me one time that intent was all that mattered.

      They’re simply wired differently, and, in many cases, the positive and negative wires are backwards. When the going gets tough, intentions aren’t going to be worth a bucket of warm spit.

    • M. Noonan September 30, 2015 / 11:39 am

      Its why they give out participation trophies…and ban games like “tag” and the keeping of score in kids games. All that matters is that you showed up…whether or not anything positive was accomplished is irrelevant…and why that ball player who told his son to give back the participation trophy caused heart ache on the left.

      To be sure, unbridled competition and a desire to win at all costs is also the wrong way to go about things. But there has to be a result – what one does should show up somewhere. But, then again, if we really insist upon that as a standard, half of all Progressives will be out of a job.

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