Carly Fiorina just launched her presidential bid. There are some very good reasons to consider her very seriously.
- Accountability: Carly is a business leader. She is not a career politician. Career politicians haven’t done very well by the people who’ve elected them. Confidence in the US government is at an all-time low or very close to it. As of this writing, 72% of those polled disapprove of Congress and over 60% believe the country is on the wrong track! Politicians have little to no accountability to the people who elect them. They can get reelected solely by running attack ads funded by special interest groups who may not represent the needs of the constituency. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by electing someone who actually had real responsibility and accountability throughout their career.
- Unrivaled understanding: Carly was a senior manager at Lucent Technologies at the time when the products this company made began to flatten the world as Thomas Friedman calls it. Optical and IP communications enabled for the first time, knowledge workers located in India and elsewhere working in call centers and other outsourced markets to compete with those in the US. An important quote from an official in India Friedman mentioned, is as follows, “The global economic playing field is being leveled and you Americans, you’re not ready!” Fiorina actually lived through the technology advancement firsthand and understands the scope of the problem better than just about anyone else.
- From labs to jobs: Lucent (now Alcatel-Lucent) is the owner of Bell Labs which invented the transistor, the UNIX operating system, the C programming language, the laser and so much more. This is one of the most innovative labs in the world. She saw firsthand how US R&D is second to none. She further learned how a single invention like the transistor could allow space travel, consumer electronics, corporate computing and make virtually all devices smart. Every job in the tech space can thank this invention –perhaps over one billion career opportunities. One final point – not only does your iPhone, iPad and Mac take advantage of billions of transistors, it also uses a variant of the UNIX operating system – all invented by Bell Labs.
- From monopoly to free markets: Prior to Lucent being spun off by AT&T, she was an influential executive at this government sanctioned monopoly, witnessed it being broken up by the government and further helped develop a strategy to take a portion of this organization public. Moreover, Lucent became a wild success for many years until the telecom bubble burst in 2000. To her credit or perhaps due to luck, she left the company in 1999. It is worth noting that changing the culture of a company with a monopoly and turning it into a competitive force is an extremely rare accomplishment.
- Intense business experience: She then became CEO at HP – where she was controversial yet at the same time was steady and able to manage the company through a very challenging time. She was responsible for the HP purchase of COMPAQ – the arch-enemy PC and server maker. As the PC market faced commoditization, the idea behind this merger was to roll up the market and grow profits through the reduction of duplicate costs. In hindsight, it was a move that had to be tried. It was also a very heated, political, public fight to get this deal done. You can’t walk away from something like that without learning a great deal about people, politics and how to ensure you build alliances, etc. If you believe the federal government has grown too large and the entire economy would benefit if there was shrinkage in its ranks then electing someone who has done the heavy lifting of workforce reductions is a major positive. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Our economy started a massive expansion shortly after Bill Clinton instituted government layoffs.
- Layoff experience is invaluable: As mentioned above, one of the reasons companies in mature markets acquire competitors is so they can reduce costs to become more competitive. The management teams of all companies have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure shareholders maximize returns. In plain language this means if you aren’t exploring outsourcing and layoffs, you could be sued or forced out of the company. These are unpleasant things all CEOs have to face at one time or another –especially after large acquisitions. What we learn from this is she understands how business cycles cause growth, mergers and subsequent workforce reductions. Moreover, she understands in a global economy, maximizing the competitiveness of U.S. corporations and workers is the best way to compete and win against businesses abroad.
- Nullifying the gender card: She is a woman. In a perfect world, people should elect the best person and not base such an important decision on race, ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof) or gender. Yet, we know the world isn’t a perfect place and many are looking to vote for any woman on the ballot – regardless of party affiliation. For this reason, it’s a great idea to have a woman to compete with Hillary Clinton. It forces the decision to shift to policy and the best vision for the future.
- Likeability and presence: Full disclosure… I know Carly. She is personable, likeable, a great leader, a great speaker, has amazing presence and I would be thrilled to have her as my president. More disclosure, she was a paid speaker at one of my company’s past conferences – ITEXPO. Here is one of the most important thing she told me and I still agree a decade later –“Telecom is ultimate tool for unlocking human potential.“ She rocked the house as it were onstage. She was one of the best speakers if not the best we’ve ever had. She was positive and highly optimistic –qualities I admired in George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
- Critical tech knowledge desperately needed in Washington: Technology is fundamentally changing the world. In the next decade, 3D printing could disrupt China. Autonomous vehicles could make it unnecessary for anyone to drive a car or pilot an airplane. It isn’t enough to know about technology – you really need to have a first-hand knowledge of it to help your economy – workers, business leaders, etc. adapt to a changing world. The US needs a blue print on how we will compete in this brave new environment where Uber disrupts car companies and Airbnb disrupts hotels. Think about it for a moment – these two companies alone will generate billions of dollars for the US economy, in-part funded by international commerce. While technology forces low-skilled workers to compete globally, it also allows innovative tech companies to profit from sales made everywhere. Wouldn’t it be great to create even more of these companies in the US?
- Leadership and vision: Who is best to map such a blueprint out and approve it? Someone who has seen the telecom market go from monopoly to commodity. Who has seen antitrust regulators tear her company apart. Someone who has seen the PC market go from a luxury to commodity. Someone who understands Silicon Valley as well as DC. Someone who is likeable, who has had to deal with real-world issues like outsourcing and layoffs, something that every business in the world has to consider at one point or another. Finally, we need someone who can lead, has shown the ability to build teams, consensus and get important work done.
- Ensuring U.S. power and strength:The power the US wields has to do with our financial strength and it comes primarily from our corporations. Take away the entrepreneurs and the somewhat free markets the US is able to leverage and our strength and standing in the world diminishes quite rapidly. However, if you are able to create an environment where business have more confidence that their president understands their pain points and problems and will work to fix them, you get a more optimistic environment. Why is this important? Well because 93 million people are not in the US workforce as of today. The total population including children and retirees is about 330 million. This is a huge percentage by any standard.
- She can help restore the American Dream: She is the key to reducing income inequality. President Obama ran on reducing income inequality yet the problem has gotten far worse under his watch. On the other hand, Carly started as a secretary and worked to become CEO. I have said many times before that tech is a simple way to get more people rich. What other industry allows anyone at all with drive and ambition to pick up a programming book and within months or years get a job where they write code and within months or so get shares of stock, participate in an IPO and become a millionaire? Will she turn us into a nation of coders? No but she understands the path to wealth better than just about anyone and tech is a market which has a bright future and will continue to create many new millionaires. If we want more rags to riches stories in the U.S., let’s elect someone who has lived it.
If we agree the way to get all these millions of people back to work is for new companies to hire them, we should all be quite concerned. Why? Business starts are at an all-time low! Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) had this to say some months back, “For the first time in over 30 years, more businesses are dying off than being created.”
Obviously a career politician is at a disadvantage to a businessperson if creating an environment which starts new businesses is one of the most important priorities for the next president.
In conclusion, Carly 2016!
In fairness, I reached out to Hillary Clinton for her thoughts but I’m beginning to think my email was somehow deleted.