Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina condemns “crony capitalism”

April 7, 2015, 9:29 PM UTC

Carly Fiorina made history as the first woman to become CEO of a Fortune 100 company, but don’t expect the likely Republican presidential candidate to defend big business on the campaign trail. In my wide-ranging interview with Fiorina at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Fiorina sounded less like the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and more like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren—with a twist.

“What we have now is less and less free market, and more and more crony capitalism, “ Fiorina answered when I asked her to respond to Pope Francis’ condemnations of global capitalism. “Government gets bigger and more complicated, so only big companies can thrive…Family businesses and startups are getting crushed,” thereby limiting American economic growth.

Of course, Fiorina is a conservative who wants to cut government while Warren, the liberal senator from Massachusetts, embraces Washington’s reach. But anti-big business themes are woven throughout the message Fiorina is honing as she prepares for the campaign trail. “We have to lessen the power and complexity and reach of big government and big business,” she said. “Small and new companies create two-thirds of jobs and employ half the employees…But for the first the time in United States history, we are destroying more businesses than we are creating.”

A week after she told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace there is a “90% chance” she will run for President, Fiorina offered details on her foreign policy views at a CSIS Smart Women Smart Power forum, co-sponsored by Fortune. You can watch the interview here, or listen to the entire conversation on the latest iTunes podcast episode of Smart Women Smart Power. Get the podcast by following this link:

The Stanford graduate also described her rise from UCLA law school drop-out and “Kelly Girl” temp to the pinnacle of Silicon Valley as CEO of Hewlett- Packard in 1999. She calls H-P “the gray lady that wasn’t growing and wasn’t innovating.”

Fiorina rattled off performance numbers defending her tenure, which ended with the HP board firing her in 2005 with the company’s performance still not showing promised results from her controversial decision to buy a leading competitor, Compaq. “We did that [merger] in the middle of the biggest technology recession in 25 years, and against conventional wisdom,” she said, noting that she favored diversification during a “pure play era” of more narrowly focused tech companies.

“If you lead you will make enemies,” Fiorina said, “It’s the nature of leadership.” She also disputed the suggestion that her abrupt departure–which she ascribed to a dispute over board members leaking confidential information–would hurt her political ambitions. “People need to know the facts,” she said. “One of the things that is good about business [is that] there are actually facts and numbers that are indisputable.

“Sometimes I think politics is a fact-free zone,” the 2010 failed candidate for a California Senate seat quipped.

On foreign policy, Fiorina:

  • Criticized the White House for “rewarding bad behavior” by continuing nuclear talks with Iran despite Tehran’s flaunting of inspection regimes and destabilizing the Middle East through proxies like Yemen’s Houthis. “Tactically, I also think it’s a huge error for the President of the United States to declare victory in a Rose Garden ceremony when only a framework agreement has been decided,” she added. “What that signals is that this President is now committed publicly to getting this deal. My prediction is that the Iranians will spend the next two months trying to get a better deal. I’ve negotiated plenty of deals. If you want a good deal, you’ve got to be willing to walk away from the table.”
  • Called for more military support for Arab allies in the Middle East, and for Ukrainians fighting Moscow-backed forces. Of Russian President Vladmir Putin, whom she has met, she said: “Putin is a very formidable man, highly intelligent, highly educated, very cosmopolitan and charming. He is also a man who is focused on power– not ideology…Someone like that will not be stopped unless he senses strength and purpose on the other side.”
  • Called for U.S. policy and business leaders to form a united front to stop China’s “systematic pilfering of our intellectual property” through cyber spying.
  • Said deploying U.S. military force “is always a last resort and should only be used in limited way.” Knowing now that Saddam Hussein did not actually possess weapons of mass destruction, she said she would not have supported the Iraq war. She also favors escalated military and intelligence assistance to US allies in the Middle East fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda, rather than sending in American troops.

Read More

LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital