Tough Choices | Carly Fiorina

Summary of: Tough Choices: A Memoir
By: Carly Fiorina


In ‘Tough Choices: A Memoir,’ Carly Fiorina chronicles her journey from a middle-class upbringing to becoming the first female CEO of a Fortune 20 company, Hewlett-Packard (HP). As she navigates a male-dominated business world, Fiorina faces an array of unique challenges including office politics, gender bias, and negotiating complex deals, but ultimately emerges as a success. Through her story, readers will gain insight into Fiorina’s unwavering commitment to her values, hard work, and innovative thinking, as well as her experiences with risk-taking, building teams, having courage to make tough decisions, and examining the significance of change in both personal and professional settings.

Carly Fiorina: Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Carly Fiorina grew up with academic parents and moved around for their various teaching jobs. She went to Stanford, then UCLA Law School but dropped out to become a secretary. Her experience in Italy teaching English to businessmen sparked her interest in business. Carly went on to get her MBA and was hired by AT&T, where her career rapidly progressed, and she met Frank, her second husband. Carly’s story teaches us that we can always choose to become something more, to turn challenges into opportunities.

Fiorina’s Journey to the Top

How Carly Fiorina overcame gender bias and office politics to become a successful business leader

Carly Fiorina’s journey to the top was far from easy. As a female manager-in-training with a graduate business degree at AT&T, Fiorina quickly learned that she was a novelty. Despite this, she threw herself into learning about the work and her colleagues, showing commitment and gaining the trust of senior managers through asking questions and listening. However, she faced numerous obstacles along the way. One salesman once held a business meeting at a strip club, assuming she would not attend, leaving the serious work to men. To his surprise, Fiorina showed up and proved her point, showcasing her courage and determination.

Even after her promotion to sales manager, her boss openly referred to her as “our token bimbo,” an error he made only once. She was dismayed to find that backstabbing office politics often trumped merit and integrity in terms of how managers ranked their subordinates. Fiorina realized no matter how professional she was or what results she produced, some men would never take her seriously. However, she remained resolute and rejected the idea of changing herself to fit in.

Fiorina became known for her tenacity and toughness, standing up to notoriously rude managers, using their profane language to tell them that they could not use their status to abuse her verbally. She also used a risqué visual gag, stuffing socks into her pantsuit and telling the audience that her team’s balls were as big as anyone’s, to break the ice at a key sales meeting. Fiorina’s journey to the top was not the quickest or easiest route, as she always preferred challenging positions where she could make a difference.

Despite everything, Fiorina remained focused and determined to succeed. After attending the Sloan School of Management, she made an unlikely choice by choosing to direct international strategy and development at Network Systems, AT&T’s manufacturing arm, instead of running AT&T’s 800 service under Joe Nacchio. These choices may have seemed contrary, but they were right for her, and she never regretted them.

Throughout her journey, Fiorina encountered numerous challenges that she overcame through grit and determination. Her story is an inspiration to anyone facing similar obstacles, emphasizing the importance of being true to oneself and refusing to let biases and politics hold us back from achieving our goals.

Building Great Teams

In her leadership career, Fiorina learned that building great teams requires treating team members with respect, listening to them, asking questions, and taking responsibility for results. However, she also learned that passion for an idea can lead to losing sight of the big picture. Leadership often means making tough calls that can be lonely, requiring both passion and dispassion. Fiorina’s experiences negotiating international agreements taught her the importance of respecting customs and rituals to build trust. Building great teams demands both sensitivity and objectivity, as well as the ability to make tough calls.

Carly Fiorina’s Corporate Journey

Follow Carly Fiorina’s rise to corporate power and the challenges she faced along the way.

Carly Fiorina is no stranger to the spotlight, having been thrust into the public eye during a government trial where AT&T appealed the decision to award a contract to its competitors. As the lead witness and AT&T’s expert, she gave her first press conference, an experience that still makes her nervous today.

Throughout her career, Fiorina has learned that strong successful people often face both admiration and attacks from others. However, this never deterred her from reaching for the top. As Network Systems’ vice president of strategy and marketing, she became a corporate officer- a position for which she had worked tirelessly. Fiorina earned the mentors she deserved as two successive Network presidents took her under their wing.

In her role as the leader of the North American sales team, Fiorina became known for inventing contests and team-building exercises that motivated her sales team. Despite initially being laughed at by other divisions, her team delivered solid results. Soon, however, Fiorina had to make a tough decision; she agreed with the decision to spin off the unit and three others into a new firm, Lucent Technologies. Many apprehensions were voiced, but Fiorina was confident in her decision.

Lucent became a whirlwind of learning opportunities for Fiorina, who loved the process of creating a company from scratch. She became an executive vice president and ultimately, president of the consumer products division. However, the decision to spin off the division in a joint venture with Phillips would ultimately prove to be a misstep.

Fortune magazine named Fiorina “The Most Powerful Woman in Business,” marking the culmination of her years of hard work. However, she was also acutely aware of the issues with the list, feeling it disempowered women by not creating an equivalent list of men.

Through all the highs and lows of her long career, Carly Fiorina’s faith in teamwork and community has remained unshakeable. She relied on this approach to manage increasingly complex groups, even during difficult times like when her mother passed away suddenly. Despite the struggles she faced, Fiorina’s story remains an inspiring tale of diligence and perseverance for anyone aspiring to rise to the top of the corporate world.

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