Claiming she has been the subject of endless scrutiny and criticism during her controversial career in the IT industry, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina said that leadership comes with a price — which is why it is so important to have a strong internal compass.
In a candid address to the Global Business Forum in both Sydney and Auckland, Fiorina talked about the principles of leadership.
Claiming leaders are made not born, she observered that there is nothing more draining than witnessing a person compromise to achieve a goal.
“Principles are important. When you come to those moments and you are about to compromise — don’t.
“Do not sell your soul. There are plenty of opportunities to sell your soul in life and if you do, nobody will ever pay you back.
“Keep your soul and be in control of your own choices — that is what life is about.”
During her hour-long discussion, which followed a presentation by former US president Bill Clinton, Fiorina talked about her darkest days at HP and the battle to transform a company “afraid to change”.
When she first joined HP in 1999 it was an organisation “frozen in time” and had strayed from its roots as an innovator, she told the conference.
She told of how, armed with a belief that it is not the strongest that survive but those that adapt to change, her goal was to transform HP and return the company to its roots.
“HP forgot that it was an innovator — we had to re-learn original values.”
She went on to point out that the much-vaunted “HP Way” was “used as a shield against change to dismiss new ideas, which isn’t what the founders intended.”
She pointed out that when she joined, HP had fallen off the list of the top 25 innovators in the world, but when she left it had returned to the top three.
Transformation, she observed, is a mix of preservation and reinvention as the goal of change is not to lose or deny the past but to use it as a platform for the future.
She says one of the biggest contributors to rapid change taking place in the 21st century is globalisation.
“As a human race we only have 15 years experience with a truly global economy; we’re still learning our way.
“This is an era when every process will be transformed into a digital, mobile, virtual personal world. This will happen over the next 25 years.”
In a digital world everything is about the potential of the individual, she observed, because the nature of authority has shifted. Institutions are more transparent and access to information has been democratised.
“Our institutions cannot operate in vertical chains of command any longer. Leaders cannot command and control.
“The new work environment is about horizontal processes and collaboration, while skills must be continually refreshed.”
The dotcom bust signalled the end of the beginning for IT and it has now entered the main event, she believes.
“IT was always a discreet back-office function, but now it’s rolling into the fabric of life — technology can do more than people can deal with.”