Fiorina talks about her "Tough Choices"
Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina sits down with Fortune's David Kirkpatrick and opens up about her new book, her time on the board and the current scandal rocking the company.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Fortune's David Kirkpatrick sat down with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in Palo Alto on October 5 for two hours - the lengthiest interview she has given on her new book "Tough Choices," her tumultuous tenure as HP's CEO and the recent scandal surrounding HP.
The timing of your book is almost bizarre in a way.
It is. And by the way, I finished writing it March 31. And I haven't touched a word since. People have asked me if I changed it in the last month? No.
Dysfunction in the boardroom
What was the decision of HP's board to fire you based on, in your opinion?
The decision to fire me was based on a number of individuals who since figure largely in the current dysfunction. You had a dysfunctional board with a couple members who were offended that I would not acquiesce to a set of ideas or pet projects that I didn't think served the interests of the business. They were offended when I refused to cut corners on rules of good governance, simply because they wanted me to. They were, I think, alarmed and offended at my reaction to certain behavior, which was clearly unacceptable in the boardroom.
Talking to The Wall Street Journal about very confidential discussions and disagreements. And I think they concluded that I was serious about board assessment and beginning to bring in outside expertise, really beginning to focus on, "Okay, we've got to upgrade this board now."
There are some people who are deliberate and careful and thoughtful, and there are other people who can become emotional and careless. And when people get worked up in a group setting, and they don't step back and pause, they can do some interesting things.
There was an article a couple days ago from a governance expert, and he said sometimes the most important thing a board can do is take a deep breath and take a few days off. I think that's true.
I think the sad events of the last month have lifted a veil on the dysfunction.
One of the things that any board member needs to keep in mind is that they have to maintain, as a chief executive does, a broad perspective. People can go narrow and deep in one particular area - maybe it's technology - and get very captivated by it, but it isn't the whole picture. Their responsibility is to make decisions on behalf of a public trust, which is a publicly held company. That means they have to have a broad view. And so we had some board members who would go narrow and deep.
And who would be the worst offenders?
Well, I think Jay [Keyworth] and Tom [Perkins] clearly had that bent.
Those two and former printer executive Dick Hackborn were the board members who had the deepest ties to the founders of the company. Did that give them a credibility that made their critique more problematic?
Look, I really believe that more ideas are always better than fewer. Throwing a lot of ideas around is a good thing. And by the way, I like Jay and Tom. I considered them trusted colleagues, I considered the technology committee [on which Keyworth, Perkins and Hackborn sat] very useful. But sometimes people lose sight of the impact of brainstorming or the impact of their suggestions or forget that they're not in the chain of command of management and they shouldn't be redirecting programs on the fly. You know what, maybe this isn't the most important thing the business has to worry about, even though it's what I care about the most. It's about perspective and judgment and forbearance, sometimes.
As I say in the book, when Bill and Dave were active in management, it was a billion-dollar company. When I left, it was an $87 billion company. That entity is different in every way from a billion-dollar Silicon Valley startup. And so to an extent, it's not sufficient for a board member of an $87 billion company to say, this is how we used to do it, so this is how we should do it still.
Is the recent mess simply a consequence of the dysfunctionality you already addressed? Or are there other elements that we need to be thinking about?
Well, first of all I just find the whole thing incredibly sad - incredibly sad - because, unfortunately, while board dysfunction clearly has a great deal to do with it, it now has impacted the company, its employees, its reputation and its brand, in a way that's distressing to me. I mean, I still love HP.
So you had board dysfunction. Apparently you had a set of personal agendas and personal enmities. Where was judgment? Where was ethics? Where was perspective? Where was somebody saying, "Wait a second, what are we doing?"
I didn't like it when someone leaked. But the way I dealt with it was right up on top of the table, man-to-man, so to speak: "You know what? This isn't acceptable behavior. Let's talk about who did this and why." And when people were not willing to give me an honest answer to an honest question, then I said, "Okay, [HP outside attorney] Larry Sonsini, why don't you talk to them? And then, Larry, why don't you report back to the board?" Now let's move forward. How are we going to move forward in a productive way?
You've got to deal with the toughest stuff. The toughest stuff has to be up on the table - transparent, open, aboveboard. Does everyone feel comfortable in a confrontation like that? No. Is it necessary? Yes. Is it what board members are supposed to do? Absolutely.
Investigating the leak
You authorized an investigation, though.
No, I wouldn't even call it an investigation. I authorized a set of conversations. The first conversation was amongst the board members.
I called the board meeting. If someone's calling the Journal, this is very counterproductive. We had a conversation. It was clear in that conversation - because everybody denied it - that someone wasn't prepared to answer an honest question honestly.
And Jay Keyworth was in the room, for example.
Of course! The only person who wasn't there was Pattie Dunn, who was on vacation.
Then when that was not helpful, I went to the nominating governance committee. We had a meeting and the nominating governance committee said, "Let's ask Larry Sonsini to do two things - to have a conversation with each board member privately, and during those conversations to begin to conduct a board assessment of our dynamics and to ask about the leak."
At the end of that series of conversations, Larry Sonsini reported out to the full board. End of story, full stop. It was over. That was all that happened. That's not an investigation.
Keyworth now says of his talk with the press more recently, "I thought when I called CNET I was advancing the company's cause." When you hear that kind of thing, what goes through your head?
Boards become dysfunctional when people's personal agendas, personal pet projects, personal likes and dislikes come to outweigh everything else. And I think there was a lack of perspective and judgment and ethics on many people's part.
But in the post-Enron, post-WorldCom world where we want boards to be genuine governance bodies, isn't it possible that dissent, adamant disagreement, even factionalism may be a healthy or at least inevitable thing in boards?
A board has to be able to deal in an open, honest way with disagreements. And it's not necessarily required that a board becomes unanimous. By the way, every vote that was ever taken on my watch was unanimous but two, not because we didn't have healthy debate, we had very healthy debate. Only two were not unanimous - Tom Perkins rejoining the board and my ouster.
Yes, a board has to have debate. That's different, but it's up on the table. That's different from saying, "You know what? I don't really like how this discussion went, so I'm going to go outside, and I'm going to talk to the media to put pressure on what's going on in private in the boardroom.
Drawing an ethical line in the sand
One thing that strikes a lot of people as very confusing is, as Pattie Dunn has now said, that this one detective firm Security Outsourcing Solutions did so much of its business with HP that it was like a de facto subsidiary. Were you aware of a lot of detective work being undertaken while you were CEO?
Well, in some cases, yes. Let me give you an obvious case. I had not ever heard of Security Outsourcing Solutions, but I accept as fact that they've been hired for eight years, I guess. The investigative unit in Hewlett-Packard, in any company, frankly - and all big companies have them - when you have an employee blow the whistle and say, "My manager is engaging in fraud and is passing business off to their family member," you have to investigate that. It's your obligation. And a lot of that stuff proves to be true.
We had one horrific example. An employee came up through the hotline and was complaining about..
Is this an anonymous complaint hotline?
Yeah. We had many, many avenues for whistleblowers. You could call an 800 number. You could submit something to an e-mail box. We had ombudsmen that people could call. This is also a very important post-Enron thing. Businesses have to allow people to raise issues. And when they raise them, you have to follow through.
We had one terrible situation where someone suggested that there was a child pornography ring running in one of our factories. It turned out it was true. People were using Hewlett-Packard equipment and our network to run this ring. And when you get ready to fire people over that, you better have your ducks in a row. You better know what's going on. So yes, there are investigations.
Did you know much about this investigations unit inside HP which Anthony Gentilucci was running?
No. The truth is I never ordered investigations. We had a committee that I purposely did not sit on. It included [Former HP Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Global Citizenship] Debra Dunn and [HP Chief Financial Officer] Bob Wayman. It was a process by which all of the complaints and issues were fed into this committee and decisions were made.
They would make decisions. And I would be informed when something was of a magnitude that they felt I needed to be informed of, and they would say, "We are taking steps to investigate." And then I wouldn't hear anything until they came back and said, "Here's how this issue has been closed out."
Did HP have a chief ethics officer when you were there?
Was it Kevin Hunsaker?
Did you put him in that position?
No. I don't know him. Debra Dunn ran corporate social responsibility. Ethics, the hotline, all of that reported to her while she was there. She left soon after I did. And frankly, I don't know what happened to it.
So that position of being the person responsible for ethics was not in the legal department when you were CEO?
So to have the chief ethics officer being a subordinate lawyer to [Chief Counsel] Anne Baskins was a new thing?
It's amazing to have the chief ethics officer being indicted for a felony.
This is a piece of why I think it's so sad, because obviously people for a long period of time let this investigation run. Forget the legality. Let's go back to character, judgment, ethics, perspective. I think there is an impact on the Hewlett-Packard reputation, and I think it's very sad.
Did you ever know about any pretexting-type activity?
I never heard the word till I read it.
Well, leaving aside the word, did you ever hear anything about getting people's personal phone records?
Never. I've been in big companies a long time and I've seen them from many angles. I write in the book that I believe that how a person comes down on issues of ethics and judgment is always everything. And I think not enough consideration is given to the ethical consequences of business decisions. It's important. It matters. And when ethics and judgment go awry, the consequences can get out of control really fast.
Did you know the names of any of these any outside firms that HP used?
How can you be sure that in those investigations they didn't use pretexting?
Well, can I guarantee they didn't? I never saw information. Someone would come to me and say, "This is the conclusion. The conclusion is fraud occurred. The conclusion is there is a child pornography ring. The recommendation is we fire X people."
How do you feel about [former HP Board Chairman] Pattie Dunn being charged with a felony?
I'm tremendously sad. I'm making no comment about whether she should be or shouldn't be. That's for others to determine. All I'm saying is nothing about this situation makes me feel anything other than sorrow and regret that people just lost sight of what was important here.
I have heard it said by some people that when you were CEO there was an investigations culture in HP. Is there anything to that?
Well, first of all, I certainly don't agree with the characterization. But where it may come from, in fairness, is during the proxy battle [over the merger with Compaq]. It's hard to overestimate the emotion of that battle for people inside the company. There were two very well-publicized and very damaging leaks during that time. One was when a document got out of our integration planning team and was sent to Walter Hewlett's camp, and he filed a lawsuit based on it, and we ended up sitting in court and spending millions of dollars and delaying the merger. It was a big deal. So we absolutely were trying to figure out what had happened, because our e-rooms, we used to call them, we thought were terribly secure. Somehow, someone had electronically peeled off information using our equipment and sent it to the outside world.
When that happened, I and other members of the senior team were very open with employees in saying, "This is very damaging. Company proprietary information has to stay inside the company. You can't take it upon yourself, no matter how strongly you feel about something, to decide to let it out there."
And the other one, of course, was the famous voicemail between Bob Wayman and I, and a recording of that ended up at the San Jose Mercury News. When that happened, as I recall, Bob Wayman sent a message to all employees, which was very unlike him. He talked about how violated he personally felt and how we can't do this. And by the way, it's as damaging for an employee to leak proprietary information to serve their own purposes as it is for a board member to.
A lasting legacy
What do you think are the best and the worst things that you did at HP?
I think the best things I did for HP have to do with the fundamentals of its transformation. I would say there were four things. First, we made the decision that HP was going to lead again. And that meant we had to undertake the merger with Compaq. That merger, undertaken in extraordinarily difficult times, provided the foundation for leadership. And by the time I left, we were already number one or number two of every business in which we competed. It is a foundation upon which others have now built, to their credit. Fundamental. It established the trajectory of performance and leadership for the business.
Second thing: We returned HP to its roots of innovation. When the technology company called Hewlett-Packard doesn't even show up in the top 25 innovators in the world, which was the case when I arrived, it's not innovating anymore. By the time I left, it was 11 patents a day. It was number three in the world. That's a big deal.
Did the genetic material brought into the company with Compaq accelerate that?
Well, I think it accelerated it, but I don't want to say that the merger alone was the cause of that.
No, HP was a great institution...
Yeah, but it was atrophying. It was neglected.
Everybody at HP focused on incrementalism. And if you're only focused on incrementalism, you cannot innovate. So it took a fundamental reorientation of people's mindsets as well as peoples' metrics to reinvigorate our innovative capacity, which is fundamental to a technology company.
Third: HP had become a bureaucracy. It needed to be a meritocracy. And that too takes really hard work over an extended period of time. What does a bureaucracy do? It becomes slow-moving, insular, internally focused. What's a meritocracy about? It's focused on performance competitively measured - huge, hugely important.
And I think the final thing - and these aren't in any particular order - we became a customer-focused business again. When I arrived at HP, we couldn't measure customer sat. Customers would say to me, "I don't know who to call; they never call me." We had 150 brands. We had 87 different product lines that never talked to each other.
This was not a customer-focused business. And in my tenure, it became a customer-focused business. Not only did it become a customer-focused business, but the way the company thinks about customers, total customer experience, is still deeply embedded in the fabric of the business.
Those are big things. Now I could go on and on about, you know, in the PC business we made hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of investments over three years to build a direct distribution engine that ultimately, clearly competes with Dell (Charts), despite great skepticism that we could do it. I mean, I could go on into specifics, if you like, in every single product line. But the big picture is the strategy to lead and the merger with Compaq; innovation, customer focus and a performance-based, customer-based culture.
So now to the worst things. I think my mistakes - and I made them - were several. First, I made mistakes about people. And sometimes when I say that, people think, oh, well that's not a big deal. That's a big deal. A leader's most important set of choices are about people. And I made some mistakes in judgment about people.
In some cases, I'm very candid in the book. I put the wrong people in certain jobs and left them there too long. I underestimated certain people. I overestimated other people. I didn't get all my people choices wrong, but I got some wrong.
The second thing I would say is clearly I should have been more focused and more effective at upgrading the capability in the boardroom, and I didn't get it done. And by the time I was firmly focused on getting it done, they got me done.
You make it clear that from the day you started meeting with the board, you realized this was a weird, fairly dysfunctional board.
Initially I couldn't do it because they had given me my mandate. Then we went through the whole merger, and board members are a political negotiation, who gets to sit where. And by the time we were in a position to deal with it, I didn't deal with it aggressively enough, and then it got away from me.
And I think the third thing I would say is, I would do it all again, but I underestimated how incredibly difficult change would be at Hewlett-Packard. It was extraordinarily difficult and painful for everyone, including me. I didn't appreciate the depth of emotion around the first layoff. I mean, I knew there would be emotion around it, but I really thought that given the downturn that we were in, people would see it fundamentally as necessary. So that emotion makes a big difference in a company.
By the way, when I say I would do it again, I am absolutely convinced, despite the fact that those changes were extraordinary, tough and painful, they had to be done, and the company is stronger and better for it. And I think employees at Hewlett-Packard now enjoy being part of the leading technology company in the world.
Well, and Mark Hurd did even more.
Cost-cutting has continued, layoffs continued.
And I would have continued, by the way. I mean, we had a plan to keep going. It's part of running a business.
Let's talk about that issue of how HP has done as a business since you left, because you say that you feel vindicated by its subsequent success to a large degree.
I feel validated, I don't feel the need for vindication, but my choices I think have been validated.
So you do see clearly that HP's impressive performance of the last 18 months is a natural consequence of a lot of things that happened when you were leading?
Absolutely. A natural consequence of the things, the choices, the investments that were made when I was leading, as well as a natural consequence of a buoyant economy and a booming bull market. Which is not to say that leadership hasn't contributed.
So do you admire what Hurd has done?
I think it's fair to say that Mark's legacy will be known over time. That's not a comment about Mark per se. It's a comment about the reality of big businesses. They have a lot of momentum. It's a big ocean liner. They're hard to turn. And so, I think to call the last 18 months a turnaround is frankly foolish. That's not to take anything away from what Mark has done, but I think what Mark has chosen to do we'll see in the coming years. Certainly I agreed with his decision to continue to cut costs. It was what I was planning to do.
One of the other big changes he made was decentralizing a lot of things like marketing, which he portrays as fundamental. That undid a fundamental thing you did - you tried to bring things together. How do you feel about that change?
Well, I think first of all, I would back up and say that businesses go through cycles. If you look at the history of any business, what you'll see is a company cycling through centralize, decentralize, regionalize. It's part of the natural evolution. However, I would also say that the consequence of decentralizing marketing, having more product advertising and less brand advertising, those are the kinds of things that I think we will see the consequences of over time. I don't think we see the consequences of those now. For example, I don't know what customer satisfaction data is saying. Customer satisfaction data is a leading indicator. Financials are a lagging indicator. Rate of innovation is a leading indicator. I don't know what those leading indicators say, but I think they're important to tell us what's going to happen.
So you suspect that at least part of it was a mistake to reduce corporate brand advertising, to give so much autonomy to the primary operating groups.
Look, I've been in big businesses for 30 years. Every business I've ever been in, the people who run the product say, "Give me control over everything." It's what people want. So are there positives that come out of that? Well, sure. It's easier for people. In my experience, are there potential negatives that come out of that? More confusion for the customers, less understanding of what the company stands for? Yes, there are potential negatives. And how it's going to play out for Hewlett-Packard I don't think we know.
So are you saying that HP is on the course you set, with minor adjustments?
Clearly HP strategically is on the same course. And how do I define that? HP is on the course of serving both businesses and consumers. HP is on the course of choosing to be a full-line technology supplier. HP is on course to have both a great distribution capability and great channel partners. All the fundamentals appear to me, from the outside looking in, in the same way.
Cost-cutting to me is a part of doing business. Everybody has to continuously tune their cost structure. That's kind of table stakes to me. And, as I say, as for decentralization, time will tell how that plays out.
It's quite striking how strongly you convey in the book that HP's history was as a test and measurement equipment company. And then they had made fitful efforts to get into computing. So when you arrived, they had decided to get rid of their heritage, in effect, by spinning off Agilent (Charts). So what was left was - and these are my words - a fairly mediocre computer company.
It was definitely mediocre in 1999, I mean, mediocre in every respect.
The Compaq merger was perceived as doubling down on PCs. Is that the way to think about it?
The merger was an outgrowth of a set of fundamental decisions, which included that we will be both a computing and a printing company. Once that decision was made and reaffirmed, then the question becomes: "How do you be a leading computer company, assuming mediocrity is not a worthy goal?"
So now how are we going to lead? And the merger was a consequence of that decision. And I think most people now kind of take it for granted that, well, yeah, the merger was a good idea.
Just one other thing I want to come back to. There are two things that I think have happened that trouble me a little bit. One is all the work that we were doing in community development and the work that Debra Dunn was doing.
The World e-Inclusion stuff, for example?
Yeah. All that has been cut. And my own view is that that's shortsighted. Hewlett-Packard has an opportunity to demonstrate its character and make a contribution to the world. So that makes me sad. And I don't think it's in the best enlightened self-interest of the company.
The other thing I would remark upon is my sense, based on what I see and what I hear, is that Hewlett-Packard is becoming quite rapidly a much less diverse company in its leadership and in its employee body. And I think that's a troubling leading indicator as well. I say in the book, six women vice presidents left rapidly. The leadership appears to be very predominantly white male. People see that and understand what that means. You have to work at diversity in a company.
At HP you didn't really have a strong number two. Many say you took too much authority for yourself, when you pushed Michael Capellas out, for example.
I don't think so. If you back up and look at other companies, there are very few cases where a CEO clearly relies on one number two, and everyone else is smaller. There are very few cases. The only cases where I'm aware of is where you've had a founder CEO and the business gets much, much bigger than they're used to dealing with.
There's a reason for that. Look at IBM, GE, or Cisco. Name virtually any large global company you can think of. There isn't a clear number two. One person can't run big, complex, global companies. Two people can't run them. You'd better have an executive team that has real accountability and responsibility. And so I relied on more than one other person.
I don't think you can run a big, complex, global company with a simple hierarchical model like that. A lot of that discussion came up after the fact, after my firing, as justification for what was essentially a very emotional set of dynamics and decisions that played out over a very short period of time. And I can tell you absolutely that the decision to fire me was not performance-based. But after the fact, people were asked for a rationale. So the rationale was, well, she held too much power, she did this, she did that.
Do you think there is still an HP Way?
Well, I talk a lot in the book about how over time the HP Way had been corrupted. It had come to mean what anybody wanted it to mean. When I arrived it had become principally a shield against change: "We don't do it that way, it's not the HP Way." That never was, in my view, and more importantly in the view of tens of thousands of employees, what the HP Way was about.
So we went back and very explicitly talked about the elements of the HP Way. What does innovation really mean? Well, it means we actually have to innovate, and that means we have to invest in it. And to focus on customers means that we actually need to focus on customers, so let's change how we do business. So I hope that the HP way as reflected in those elemental values - trust, respect, integrity, passion for customers, teamwork, innovation, contribution - is still intact. I don't know, candidly. I'm not there.
Do you think that you are still portrayed in a sexist way in the media and in public discussions about what happened at HP and surrounding issues?
I don't really know, honestly. One of the other reasons I ended up concluding that I wanted to write the book is I didn't want to be a caricature anymore. In many ways I had become a caricature in the media. Well, we know the few sound bites about her and that's that.
On your book itself, did you have help writing it?
Well, for better or for worse, I did write every word. The rules were nobody got to fix anything. I wanted it to be authentic, for better or for worse.
Even conventional editing did not happen?
Yeah. They would say, "I don't think this works," or "I have a question about this." The editor [Adrian Zackheim at Portfolio imprint of Penguin] was very helpful, don't get me wrong. He would read a section, and then he would send me back a list of questions or comments.
The book comes off as something of a message to women about what's possible, as you methodically describe your progress through business. Were you thinking especially of helping other women?
Well it pleases me that you think that, and I hope women will read it and say, "It's possible." It may not always be pretty, but it's possible. But part of writing an authentic book was writing it from my point of view, and I'm a woman. And a woman's experience is still distinctly different from a man's.
When I give a speech, really anywhere in the world, and touch on some of the stories, young women come up to me and say, "Oh, I can so relate! I'm so glad to know it happened to you." I've told the strip-club story [about how she had to attend a crucial AT&T customer meeting at one] publicly a couple of times. I've had young women say, "I had to meet in a strip club, too." Things have not changed as much as perhaps we would think they have.
You are surprisingly candid in the book, even in how you talk unflatteringly about specific individuals you encountered, for instance Joe Nacchio [later CEO of Qwest (Charts)] or Rich McGinn [who was CEO of Lucent (Charts) when she was a top executive there].
Well, writing the book was a difficult decision for me. It took me longer to decide than it did to write it. And one of the reasons it took me such a long time to decide was because I knew that if I were going to do it, I wanted it to be authentic and real. Because, frankly, I've read a lot of good business books, but they don't seem very real to me, they seem kind of formulaic - everybody's well - intentioned. I thought if people were going to get something out of my book, then they have to know what people are really like. That was a big decision. Business is all about people, and it's all about the interactions between people.
I started out as a secretary. I ended up as a CEO. I've been everywhere in between. I know that whether you're in the mailroom or the boardroom, people are people, and some people carry their positions with honor, and some people don't. That's life. And so if you want to talk to people about what it's really like, you've got to talk about that.
And the other reason, frankly, I had a lot of trepidation about writing a book is because, as I try and say in the book, I've really enjoyed being out of the limelight. And I knew that this would thrust me back into it. I had to think long and hard about whether that's really what I wanted to do.
You are perceived by many to have loved the limelight at HP.
Well, the extent of the limelight at HP made my job and my life much more difficult. The fact that the limelight was there didn't change how I was going to go about my job. I was going to do the things that I thought were the right things to do, and so that meant showing up at Comdex and giving a big speech, or showing up at the Consumer Electronics Show and giving a big speech or showing up at Brainstorm and giving a speech, that's what I was going to do. And if people perceived that I was doing it because of the media, so be it.
The second thing I would say is I'm a fairly articulate person. I don't get tongue-tied by the media. And so I think part of what was going on was, people would say, "Wow, she does okay in all this limelight, and she's in it a lot, so therefore she must love it." What's fair to say is, first of all, I enjoy meeting people in the media. They're interesting. I like to understand what's going on in their heads. But if you ask my husband, the thing that has made me most anxious about the arrival of this book, it's not the book being out there, it's the spotlight returning. It's not the most enjoyable part of my life by a long shot.
So why did you decide to write the book, given all those things?
I decided to write the book because, as I say in the epilogue, I really believe I have been blessed in my life. I have had unique experiences and opportunities. I think I have something to say and something to share. And I wanted to do it now while I had the time, before perhaps my life took a departure.
Life after the limelight
So what do you think might come next?
I've been very busy with things that I like doing. The biggest difference between my life now and my life then, other than I do get a lot more sleep, is I have freedom. I choose what I want to do and where I want to spend my time.
I suspect that I will go back into something more full-time. But if you're asking me specifically, do I know it will be public policy or public service versus another CEO job, that I don't know.
Is running for office per se something that you think about?
I don't know. It's something others think of for me, so you listen to people. But I don't have any immediate plans, if that's what you're asking. I wouldn't rule it out as impossible, either.
Are you still a big supporter of Bush?
Why do you ask the question that way? I never publicly endorsed Bush.
You were one of the prominent people when he would call tech CEOs together. It would be you and Michael Dell and John Chambers, among others.
Well, let me be accurate. I voted for Bush. As a private citizen I gave him money. But the times that I was with Bush, he had all the tech CEOs who would accept his invitation there. I was not a public endorser. I wasn't in the Chambers or Dell category at all.
It's been misreported a couple times. I was a private voter, private citizen, with private decisions.
Setting aside whether or not the decision to go into Iraq was a sound one, it's water under the bridge, let me take a page from the merger integration. My belief is you plan for every contingency. You know well everything that can go wrong. You assume conservatively. And it doesn't appear that we did that.
What do you want to talk about that we haven't addressed?
Well, there are a couple things to me that run through the book. One is that character is everything, and one cannot assume that because someone holds a big position, that they have the character to go with it. That's just life. And the bigger issue, which is certainly an issue in politics, as we see this week [with the Congressman Foley page scandal], but also an issue in terms of board governance, is we have to think about how should we assess the qualifications and the character of executives and board members. It's really important.
In every level I've ever been at in business, I have concluded over and over and over again that judgment, ethics and character are everything. And if I had to pick between getting somebody a little bit smarter but a little bit on the edge or someone a little less smart but solid as a rock, I'll pick the solid-as-a-rock person every time.
The reason I go back in the book to my parents is because that's where I learned that from. When you go through difficult times, difficult, tough choices, for me I always have to go back to those fundamentals that are part of my own internal compass and part of my belief system.
There's another theme that runs through the book, which is that it is people that animate a business. People love to talk about the products of the business and the profits of the business, and those are really important. But people produce products and profits. And so if you want to change the course of a business, you have to understand people and how to motivate them to change.
I hope I've illustrated throughout the book in a way that's hopefully instructive to people that people, their emotions, their hang-ups, their judgment, their willingness to be cool and dispassionate and deliberate versus perhaps some people's willingness to be hotheaded and emotional - those are the things on which incredibly important decisions can turn.
And there's a third thing I know a lot about, having lived the life I've lived and done the jobs I've done, and that is what change is all about. I've seen change from the bottom. I've seen it from the top. I hope I have empathy and compassion for how difficult change is, but I also think I know a lot about what it takes. And the fact that no matter what it is, people will resist it. It's just human nature. And most of the time, even though people resist it, it's what has to happen.
There's a reason I started the book with what was arguably the biggest crisis of my professional life - getting fired in an incredibly public way. I don't mean to get overly dramatic here, but life is full of tough choices. When you put your head on the pillow at night, how do you rest easy about the tough choices you've made? The only way you can rest easy is to ask, "Okay, have I done the right things? Have I done them for the right reasons? Have I done them in the ways that I think are right? And have I done them to the best of my ability?" And if you can't say that, you're not going to rest real well. In other words, how you get through tough times is to go back to the important stuff.