November 9, 2006

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects: Tough Choices: A Memoir

By: Jack @ 3:35 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Tough Choices, A Memoir by Carly Fiorina, Portfolio Publishers, $24.95 Hardcover, 300 Pages, October 2006, ISBN 159184133X
There are people you meet who are special, more alive, more commanding, just different, from you and me. The first person I remember meeting like that was Thomas Tip ONeill, former Speaker of the House, whom I met at a book convention twenty years ago. Jack Welch is like that. Carly Fiorina is like that. Unless youve been living off the grid for the past decade, you know that Carly is the former CEO of Hewlett Packard. During her tenure, she also became a celebrity, and this book is her story.
Carly understands that readers will want to know what happened at HP, so she opens her story the day she was fired by the HP board. But this book is more than a chronicle of her years running and leaving that Fortune 20 company. She begins her second chapter with: How a story ends has much to do with how it begins and so I must begin with my mother and father. If this indicates to you that this book is her personal story, you are right, but she consistently drops in valuable paragraphs loaded with rewarding business insight.
Early on, as she writes that perhaps she became adaptable to change due to moving five times while in high school:
I experienced first-hand the power of high expectations; had less been demanded, less would have been achieved. I saw my parents fears and feelings of inadequacy compel them forward: their example convinced me never to allow my own fears and insecurities to stop me in my tracks. I learned that change can be both difficult and exciting: with each separation and loss came a great adventure. I discovered the impact of asking a question and listening to the answer: people everywhere have something to teach and are eager to share.

As you read about her years at school and at AT&T, you will remember those words, and understand better how she achieved such success in the face of enormous gender prejudice and organizational apathy. Each challenge helped her develop a theory of leadership that she would later apply to her job as CEO of HP. Let me give you an example. She writes:
Sometimes, if things arent working, people can see that there are problems but they cant identify the cause or, consequently, the solution. A leaders job is to find and address the cause, just as a doctors job is to try and cure the disease rather that simple treat the symptoms.

And one such symptom she identified at HP was:
[W]hen I arrived at the company they founded, I encountered a group of people who could not imagine their future beyond Bill and Dave and the strategy and practices theyd always followed. I saw a company that had no identity or sense of itself beyond the celebration of Bill and Daves legacy and the values they preached

I recommend Tough Choices for a variety of reasons. Carly does an excellent job of giving each organization a personality; she offers insight into her belief system and actions; she admits to mistakes and takes credit when credit is due; and she also names names, just as everyone wanted her to. But the true gift of the book is to get to know this exceptional person; you wont regret the time you spend in her company