Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Anders (Health Against Wealth, 1996, etc.) crafts a highly readable account of the clash of cultures, gender, and styles that accompanied the changing of the guard at a leading computer manufacturer.
Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, who founded their company in 1938 in a Palo Alto garage, famously ran the enterprise as a family operation; benevolent and paternalistic, they boosted profits the old-fashioned way by raising prices, trimming costs, and growing only as the market allowed. The market responded generously: “Every decade, HP’s sales, profits, and stock price climbed another fourfold or more. . . . The cumulative effect was a company with more than $30 billion a year in sales by the mid-1990s, more than 100,000 employees, and no obvious limits to its growth.” Yet HP’s management was also top-heavy and unresponsive; the company was badly prepared for the economic downturn and collapse of the tech market at the end of the ’90s. Enter vivacious, tough-as-nails Carly Fiorina, a go-getter who made Lucent a major player during the boom. In 1999, HP’s board of directors entrusted her with the job of reorganizing the company and returning it to market dominance. This female outsider from the East Coast quickly ran afoul of entrenched interests within the company, but just as quickly won allies among the board and employees alike. She was less successful, Anders writes, in the long and bloody battle to wed HP to Compaq, a faltering manufacturer whose assimilation she reckoned would make HP the biggest, baddest company on the block. The jury’s still out on that, as Anders allows, but Fiorina squeaked by with a narrow victory in one of the most bitter and heavily publicized intracorporate squabbles in memory, displaying an almost frightening tenacity that should serve HP well.
Respectful of both the old and the new cultures, rich in pro forma details and insider gossip alike, and likely to be required airplane reading in business class.