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Carly Fiorina says America needs a businesslike approach, not more politics

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina is fond of Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain’s late prime minister who was known as the “Iron Lady.”

In Fiorina’s view, Thatcher was a leader.

And Fiorina believes she could be a true leader in the United States if voters give her the chance.

“Leadership is hard. Leadership requires you to go against conventional wisdom. Leadership requires you to challenge the status quo,” said Fiorina, who views herself as a political outsider.

It’s fair to say that Fiorina, 60, doesn’t lack faith in herself. Even though she has never served in public office and was unceremoniously fired from her last business position, as head of Hewlett-Packard Co., she says she’s ready to be president.

Fiorina is one of 17 seeking the Republican presidential nomination and one of three with no experience in office. She and the two other outsiders — neurosurgeon Ben Carson and New York businessman Donald Trump — have all risen in the polls, with Fiorina in fourth or fifth place in Iowa.

Compare all the candidates with the 2016 Presidential Campaign Tracker

For Fiorina, the time has come for Americans to elect someone who is “outside the system.”

“Eighty-two percent of the American people now believe we have a professional political class in Washington, D.C., that is more focused on the preservation of its own power, position and privilege than on getting the job done,” Fiorina recently said at a Republican outdoor barbecue fundraiser in Kimballton, ?70 miles northeast of Omaha.

Fiorina’s surge came after her breakout performance in the first GOP debate earlier this month, when she was universally dubbed the winner in the “happy hour” debate among the seven candidates who did not make it to the prime-time stage.

The accolades have helped her name recognition, but Fiorina is aware that a majority of Americans still know little about her.

It’s why she spends a lot of time on the trail talking about her personal story — and her story is primarily about business. In her telling, she rose from a humble secretary to become the chief executive officer of a Fortune 50 company with $90 billion in revenue.

“It is only in this nation that a young woman who types and files in the middle of a deep recession can go on and become, eventually, the chief executive of the largest technology company in the world,” Fiorina says.

Her story, however, isn’t that linear. And her beginnings weren’t that humble.

She is the daughter of Joseph Tyree Sneed, a law professor who traveled around throughout much of Fiorina’s childhood, teaching at the University of Texas, Stanford, Cornell and Duke. Later in life he was appointed senior judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

In 1976 Fiorina tried her hand at law, but she quit law school after a semester. “I hated it. I really hated it,” she said.

That’s when she got a job as a secretary, working for less than a year at a nine-person real estate company before moving to Europe with her first husband. She taught English in Italy. (The two divorced in 1984.)

Upon her return, Fiorina earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland.

She landed her first job out of college at AT&T in sales, rising rapidly up the career ladder. Within 10 years she was a senior vice president. Five years later she was a star executive at Lucent Technologies, a company spun off from AT&T.

While at Lucent she received nationwide attention in 1998 when she was named the most powerful female U.S. business executive by Fortune magazine. She was 44 years old.

A year later, Hewlett-Packard came calling.

She spent six years at the helm of Hewlett-Packard. It was her key business experience, but also arguably her greatest weakness.

During her time at Hewlett-?Packard, she successfully pushed through a merger with Compaq, despite staunch opposition from Walter Hewlett, a board member and the son of the company’s founder.

She argued that the company needed to diversify and that the acquisition would position Hewlett-Packard to aggressively compete and dominate the personal computer market.

Six years later the same magazine that had dubbed Fiorina the top female executive ran a cover story that called the acquisition a “failure,” noting that the company’s stock price dropped during Fiorina’s leadership.

She was fired a short time later.

Fiorina has long defended the merger, saying time has proved her right. She said the merger helped Hewlett-Packard survive the recession and become a global market giant on the computer front.

“I got fired from Hewlett-?Packard. I make no secret about that. I got fired in a boardroom brawl,” Fiorina said this spring during her first appearance in Council Bluffs.

To this day, business experts debate the wisdom of the merger. Even so, Hewlett-Packard remains one of the largest computer companies in the world.

A few years after her firing, Fiorina made her first bid for public office, challenging U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a longtime Democratic incumbent in California. She lost by 10 percentage points after Boxer hammered her on her record at Hewlett-?Packard — especially the fact that 30,000 employees were laid off during the merger.

Fiorina hews to many key Republican positions. She strongly opposes abortion and illegal immigration, arguing that the nation’s first order of business should be to secure the border.

Fiorina also believes in a muscular military presence around the world and opposes the nuclear deal that President Barack Obama and five world powers reached with Iran. She has said that on her first day in the White House she plans to make two telephone calls.

“The first one will be to my good friend Bibi Netanyahu (Israel’s prime minister). I will tell him, we will stand with the State of Israel,” Fiorina said. “The second call I’m going to make is to the supreme leader of Iran. He actually might not take the phone call, but he will get the message, and the message is this: new deal.”

The speaking skills she acquired in the business world are on display on the campaign trail. During her time at Hewlett-Packard she was often called upon to give speeches — in one year, she gave 47. She is an accomplished speaker, eloquent and charismatic, winning praise from Iowans for directly answering their questions without a lot of political fluff.

During her first appearance in Council Bluffs this spring, she had the audience erupting frequently with applause.

“You go, girl!” one man proclaimed, saying she had his support even though this was the first time he had heard her.

She also speaks with a bite, openly reveling in her role as both an outsider and self-appointed female nemesis to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Fiorina has argued that if she wins the nomination, Clinton will not be able to argue that Republicans are waging a “war on women” or that Clinton is the only candidate poised to make history as the first female president.

“In your heart of hearts you cannot wait to see me debate Hillary Clinton,” Fiorina tells the crowd in Kimballton with a sly smile.

As for the idea that she lacks the government experience to be president, Fiorina strongly disagrees. She points out that she has advised former U.S. defense secretaries William Gates and Donald Rumsfeld on technology issues, as well as served on various government boards.

“I’m not a neophyte,” she said Saturday in a telephone interview.

She also rejects the idea that she would have to rely on politicians and government officials to help her navigate Washington, D.C.

For too long, she says, America has relied on the “political class” to fix long-term problems such as illegal immigration and the inefficiencies in the Department of Veterans Affairs. And for too long, she says, they have failed.

It’s time for a new, businesslike approach, Fiorina tells the Kimballton audience.

“We have to get this economy going,” she says. “And I understand how the economy works.”

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