Carly Fiorina's nearly six-year reign at Hewlett-Packard Co. ended today as the company's board forced her out as chief executive, disappointed by her efforts to make the technology...
SAN FRANCISCO — Carly Fiorina’s nearly six-year reign at Hewlett-Packard Co. ended today as the company’s board forced her out as chief executive, disappointed by her efforts to make the technology giant whose strongest business is printers more nimble and innovative. HP shares jumped more than 6 percent.
Board members said they fired Fiorina, one of corporate America’s highest ranking female executives, because she failed to execute a planned strategy of slashing costs and boosting revenue as quickly as directors had hoped.
Fiorina had championed the 2002 acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. despite fierce resistance from shareholders and directors. Critics have called the merger a drag on profits.
“While I regret the board and I have differences about how to execute HP’s strategy, I respect their decision,” Fiorina, 50, said in a statement. “HP is a great company and I wish all the people of HP much success in the future.”
Directors of Palo Alto-based HP appointed chief financial officer Robert P. Wayman to interim chief executive, and they said they would immediately begin a search for a permanent replacement. They also named director Patricia C. Dunn non-executive chairman.
Dunn said today morning in a conference call with financial analysts that directors had been discussing the change for “quite some time” based on a series of board meetings and consultations with senior advisers, ranging from venture capitalists to academics.
“Carly was brought in to catalyze a transformation of HP. She did that in a remarkable fashion, and she executed the merger with her management team in a superior fashion,” Dunn said. “Looking forward, we think the job is very reliant on hands-on execution, and we thought a new set of capabilities was called for.”
HP shares climbed $1.26, or 6.3 percent, to $21.40 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange, still well shy of its 52-week high of $25. Its 52-week low was just above $16 in August.
Fiorina’s departure comes after months of speculation that HP needed a major shot of Adrenalin to make it competitive with other technology companies, particularly rivals Dell Inc. and IBM Corp.
During its annual meeting in mid-January, HP’s board of directors discussed shifting some day-to-day responsibilities from to other executives in an effort to improve the technology giant’s performance.
In recent months, Fiorina has been the target of intensifying criticism from technology analysts and the media for failing to execute an ambitious diversification strategy — an attempt to change HP from a relatively marginal company that derived a disproportionate percentage of its profits from printers and ink into a Silicon Valley consulting and computing powerhouse.
Some Wall Street analysts have been suggesting that shareholders might be better off if the company were split into two or more pieces because the relatively dowdy printer business was sucking up resources and shifting focus from higher-profit opportunities in consulting services and areas of emerging technology.
“It appears that there’s some incremental frustration,” said Toni Sacconaghi Jr., an analyst with New York-based Bernstein & Co. “The change signals either the boards frustration or impatience with the status quo.”
Wayman, who as recently as last year talked publicly of his desire to retire, emphasized today that he’d lead the company until the board picked a new chief executive, then return to his CFO role.
“I think I’ve demonstrated the flexibility to serve the company in whatever way is needed,” Wayman said. “It’s the board’s top priority to find a new, permanent CEO, and that in no way is going to be an issue in regard to my retirement plans.”
Dunn and Wayman said the board would consider all candidates but were leaning toward external applicants. They emphasized they did not foresee any other management changes at this time.
One of the lead dissenters to the acquisition of Compaq was HP director Walter Hewlett, the son of one of HP’s late co-founders, who argued that HP was overpaying and couldn’t afford to risk the difficulties of combining the two companies.
Fiorina took the helm at HP in 1999. The following year, the company added chairman to her list of titles, making her the first woman to hold all three top posts — president, CEO and chairman — at a major computer company.