Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina presided over a tough time at HP, and her performance draws strong feelings. (Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty Images)

By Drew Harwell and Danielle Paquette
September 26, 2015 at 8:12 PM

At a polished New York press announcement in 2001, Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, then the most powerful woman in American business, unveiled an immensely risky mega-merger whose success she promised with her signature showmanship: “If you don’t believe it, watch.”

But 3 1 / 2 years later, after HP had shed half its market value and slashed more than 30,000 jobs amid what rivals called “the dumbest deal of the decade,” Fiorina was quietly fired from her first and still only job as a CEO. She succumbed to a brutal battle with the founders’ families, a worker uprising and, ultimately, what she called a “boardroom brawl.”

“In the end, the board did not have the courage to face me,” Fiorina wrote in her 2006 memoir, “Tough Choices.” “They did not thank me and they did not say goodbye.”

Now a rising star in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Fiorina, 61, has pointed to her leadership of the printer and computer giant to showcase her corporate savvy and courage under fire. She has blamed the dot-com bust, sexism and an ineffective board of directors for helping sink what was then a global juggernaut.

But in interviews with more than two dozen former HP senior directors and employees, many remember Fiorina’s legacy as troubling and divisive: A high-energy marketer, she nevertheless failed to deliver on lofty promises, alienated her workforce and presided over a disastrous reign at what was once a Silicon Valley pioneer.

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