Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is joining the race for the White House.
“We know the only way to reimagine our government is to reimagine who is leading it,” Fiorina said in an online video released Monday explaining her decision to run. “It’s time for us to empower our citizens, to give them a voice in our government, to come together to fix what has been broken about our politics and our government for too long.”
Fiorina, 60, pitched herself as an outsider who can bring a business mentality and global contacts to the White House — and who is not afraid to attack the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Fiorina’s minute-long video opens with her watching Clinton’s announcement video and snapping it off, saying: “Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class. They believed that citizens and leaders needed to step forward.”
But being an outsider means that Fiorina — who announced her candidacy on a show on US TV channel– starts her campaign as an underdog. She lacks name recognition and has barely registered in early polls. But she pointed out in a conference call with reporters on Monday morning that she has been greeted by enthusiastic crowds at appearances in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. She said large, supportive crowds are just as much a sign of viability as high poll results, fundraising totals and other traditional metrics.
“We have time,” Fiorina said with a laugh during the call. “There has been greater reception to my candidacy than I think many might have expected… We won’t raise the most money of anyone in the field, for sure, but we’ll raise sufficient money.”
Fiorina said that even though she will be outspent, she plans “to run a different kind of campaign than others run.” She said that running for U.S. Senate in 2010 — a race that she lost to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) — taught her that “ground-game matters,” something that Democrats have mastered.
Fiorina is joining a crowded GOP field. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas have announced that they will run. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, also formally announced on Monday, with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee scheduled to join the pack on Tuesday.
Fiorina is now racing to introduce herself to voters with this simple biography: She started her career as a secretary in a small real estate firm, married a former tow-truck driver and worked her way up to become the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.
“It’s only possible in the United States of America for a young woman to start as a secretary and become a CEO and maybe, just maybe, run for the presidency of the United States,” Fiorina said during a forum for potential candidates in Iowa in late April.
Fiorina graduated from Stanford University in 1976 with a degree in medieval history and philosophy. She enrolled in law school at UCLA, following in the footsteps of her father, Joseph Tyree Sneed III, a law school professor and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
She dropped out after just one semester and took the job as a secretary at a real-estate investment brokerage firm in Palo Alto, across the street from the headquarters of Hewlett-Packard. She answered phones and typed, but also helped write up deals. She has described the job as a way to pay her rent while deciding what to do with her life.
“My parents were, understandably, quite concerned,” Fiorina said in a 2001 commencement speech at Stanford. “This wasn’t exactly what they’d hoped for for their Stanford graduate.”
After a year at the firm, Fiorina moved to Italy to teach English. There, she decided to attend business school. She graduated from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business in 1980. Fiorina went to work in sales at Bell System, later AT&T, where Fiorina says she found a male-centric world with customers who wanted to meet at strip clubs and a boss who would introduce her as “our token bimbo.”
For two decades, Fiorina did sales, marketing and strategy work for several major telecommunications companies. Along the way, she earned a masters degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and married Frank Fiorina, a fellow AT&T executive who had two daughters from a previous marriage. Frank grew up in a working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood where his relatives owned an auto repair shop with a fleet of towtrucks.
In 1999, Fiorina became the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, making her the first woman to lead such a massive corporation. Fiorina has said that she was an unexpected choice for the job: “I was an outsider in every conceivable way, outside the Valley, outside the industry, not from an engineering background. All of those things were going to create controversy and hostility.”
At a press conference announcing her hiring, Fiorina deflected questions about her gender, saying: “I hope that we are at a point that everyone has figured out that there is not a glass ceiling.” The comment enraged many women, especially in the tech industry. Fiorina later reflected in her memoir: “I was trying to tell women that although there are plenty of obstacles and prejudices, there isn’t some invisible barrier that prevents them from achieving their dreams.”
Fiorina’s time at Hewlett-Packard, from 1999 to 2005, was rocky. The company, like many technology companies at the time, struggled through the dot-com bubble burst. As the value of company stock fell, some criticized Fiorina for being too much of a celebrity, and she found herself in a nasty, public fight with the children of the company’s founders and board members. She oversaw a controversial merger with Compaq and then was forced out of the company in February 2005. Fiorina received a $21 million severance package.
“How I left bothers me,” Fiorina said in a 2007 interview with Fortune Magazine. “It’s behind me, and frankly I’m tired of talking about it. But it wasn’t the way it should have ended. And not the way I would have wanted it to end.”
Fiorina became an adviser to John McCain when he ran for president in 2008. She defended McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, against attacks she said were “sexist” — but was yanked off the television circuit after she said, in response to a question, that neither McCain nor Palin would be able to run a major corporation.
In early 2009, as Fiorina debated running for U.S. Senate in California, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Later that year, her youngest stepdaughter died because of what Fiorina called the “demons of addiction.”
In November 2009, Fiorina announced that she would challenge incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) — while sporting a “graying buzz cut,” a remnant of having beat cancer. Even with her vast web of wealthy connections, she struggled to raise as much money as Boxer and chipped in millions of her own. Democrats painted Fiorina as a wealthy, out-of-touch former CEO who laid off tens of thousands of workers and shipped jobs overseas. Critics also pointed out that Fiorina had hardly ever voted in previous elections.
Such criticism is likely to come up again as Fiorina runs for the country’s highest office. Donald Trump, a fellow CEO also considering a run for the presidency, provided this critique at a breakfast in New Hampshire in April, without specifically naming Fiorina:“She got fired from a company in a vicious manner. They eventually walked her out. And she also lost an election, not by a little bit, by a landslide… Now I turn on the television, and she’s running for president. I don’t know.”
After the failed Senate race, Fiorina and her husband moved to the Washington suburbs to be closer to relatives, including two granddaughters. They purchased a $6 million home in a gated community in Northern Virginia that the National Journal described as having “a driveway so long that it’s lined with its own streetlamps.”
For months, Fiorina has been teeing up this run for the White House, providing some of the Republican field’s sharpest critiques of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. She started a PAC called the Unlocking Potential Project that focuses on women voters and is set to release a book on Tuesday, “Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey.” This week she has trips planned to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
And she is again pitching herself as the knowing outsider, saying in Iowa last month: “When did we get used to this notion that only professional politicians could run for office?”