OUTLOOK: Firing Carly Fiorina

IS IT `cos I's female? Well, yes, the board of Hewlett-Packard might have said to Carly Fiorina. We would have sacked you ages ago but for the fact that you are a woman, the first one, moreover, to lead a Dow Jones Industrial Average company. Just as Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson, is sometimes referred to as the first lady of the FTSE 100, Mr Fiorina was the first lady of the Dow and that was part of her celebrity and fascination.

Yet beneath the voyeuristic profiles lies a story of failure and bad management. Hewlett-Packard has been a disaster zone for ages now. In personal computers, it has been out-competed by Dell, its share of the server market is plummeting and its core business in printers is going nowhere. On top of all this came the disastrous merger with Compaq, which with the benefit of hindsight looks like more of an attempt to distract from wider problems than forge a new computing powerhouse.

The board cited concerns about execution in firing Ms Fiorina yesterday and I can't say I'm surprised. The merger with Compaq, opposed by many shareholders at the time, has been appallingly handled. Strategically, Hewlett Packard seems equally at sea. Yet all is not lost for those who saw Ms Fiorina's elevation to the senior echelons of corporate America as a symbolic breakthrough for women in the boardroom. Her main executioner, Patricia Dunn, is a woman too. The world has indeed changed.

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