Former HP Boss Faced 'Tough Choices' | Summary and Q&A

September 24, 2009
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Former HP Boss Faced 'Tough Choices'

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In this video, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, discusses her book, "Tough Choices," and shares insights into her career and leadership. She talks about the importance of authenticity, the challenges of leading in a business environment, the role of fear in business, the need for change and innovation, the importance of values and ethics, and the impact of media on leadership. She also addresses questions about women leaders and the scandal at Hewlett Packard during her tenure.

Questions & Answers

Q: How long did it take you to write the book?

It took me about six months to think about writing the book and another six months to actually write it. I wanted it to be an authentic book that tells the story of my life and career.

Q: What motivated you to write the book?

The inspiration to write the book came when I was sitting on a witness stand being cross-examined during a lawsuit. It made me realize that most people don't have a good understanding of how a company operates and the challenges of leadership.

Q: Why did you decide to be authentic in the book?

I believe that authenticity is important in telling my story and the story of business. Being authentic means being straightforward and honest about both the good and bad experiences, even if it creates controversy.

Q: How did you transition from being a secretary to a business executive?

While working as a secretary, I was approached by two men who saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity to help them write deals. This experience opened my eyes to the possibility of becoming a business person.

Q: What is the difference between leadership and management?

Leadership is about changing the order of things and requires understanding people and their motivations. Management is about producing known results within known conditions and constraints. People are the ones who produce products and profits, so understanding them is key to driving change.

Q: How do fear and resistance play a role in business?

Fear is a principal motivator in business, and people fear change. If you want people to change what they are doing, you must understand their fears and address them. Resistance comes with the territory of leadership, as people with power and influence seek to preserve their advantage.

Q: How did you overcome fear in your career?

Growing up, I moved around a lot and became accustomed to change. I recognized the feeling of fear and learned to connect with people, find common ground, and move forward. Change became a habit for me, which helped me overcome fear.

Q: How did you deal with the media and its impact on leadership?

In the always-on Information Age, distinguishing between fact, fiction, and opinion is difficult but crucial. It is important for leaders to stay focused on the mission and not get distracted by the noise. The media plays a significant role in shaping public perception and can create challenges for leaders.

Q: How do you build a meritocracy in a business environment?

Building a meritocracy requires measuring and valuing important aspects of the business, such as diversity and innovation. Leaders must make it a focus and role model the behavior they expect from others. Creative work environments and technology can also enable more flexibility and inclusivity.

Q: How do you make tough personnel choices as a leader?

Values and ethics are crucial in decision-making, and leaders must have the courage to act when someone's behavior is inconsistent with the values of the organization. Firing someone based on values and judgment, not just results, can be difficult but necessary for maintaining integrity.


Carly Fiorina's book, "Tough Choices," recounts her experiences as a business leader and offers insights into leadership in an ever-changing business environment. She emphasizes the importance of authenticity, understanding people, and confronting fear to drive change in organizations. Values, ethics, and effective decision-making are crucial for building a successful and ethical business. The media's role in shaping public perception and the need for meritocracy and inclusivity in organizations are also key aspects of leadership to consider.

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