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Carly's comeback: Fiorina reinvents herself as a politico

August 6, 2008 | 12:07 am
Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina took Silicon Valley by storm when she became Hewlett-Packard's chief executive in July 1999. Five years later, she was fired from that job by HP's board, which she described as "dysfunctional," and had to figure out what she would do next.

Looks like it's going to be politics. For the last several months, Fiorina has acted as John McCain's economic advisor and TV surrogate in his bid for the White House. Fiorina has even been talked about as McCain's running mate. 

It's quite a comeback for Fiorina, who in her 2006 memoir, "Tough Choices," described the pain and humiliation she felt after being fired. Her performance on the campaign trail has been refreshingly apolitical, political observers say. But, as we describe in this profile of Fiorina's reinvention, she has taken her lumps along the way.

In July, she pointed out the incongruity that some insurers cover Viagra but not birth control. Oops! Turns out McCain has twice voted against mandating that insurers cover birth control. Here's a video of McCain confronted with Fiorina's comments.

But forging new territory is her specialty, and her tough years at HP may have made her more battle-ready for a career in politics than your typical CEO. For now, she is selling McCain, not herself. And she does it well, as you can listen to yourself in an interview she did in July with reporters.

Her prominence has flamed the debate once again about her performance at HP, whether she destroyed or modernized the company, whether she lacked the skill to run a big company or whether Silicon Valley turned on her because she is a woman.

If Fiorina finds that her true calling lies in politics, she will have more treacherous shoals to navigate.

-- Michelle Quinn

Photo: Carly Fiorina at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2005, a month before HP's board fired her. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images