Nortel a long-shot job for fallen CEO: 'Tarnished' Fiorina knows telecom industry

With the firing of Carly Fiorina yesterday, Hewlett-Packard Co. can take a couple different paths to find a new president and chief executive.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company can go the traditional route and hire a senior executive with lots of high-tech experience, or it can go out of the box and recruit someone with strong management skills in another industry who can get HP back on track.

Regardless of what HP decides during an internal and external search now underway, the company's next CEO faces a huge challenge that will involve dramatic changes in HP's structure and product portfolio at a time when it is losing market share to rivals such as Dell Inc., IBM Corp. and EMC Corp.

Jay Rosenzweig, managing partner with executive recruiter Rosenzweig & Co., said HP has an opportunity to be creative and courageous.

He said HP could learn a lot from looking at what IBM did in 1993 when it hired Lou Gerstner as CEO. He had been chairman and CEO with RJR Nabisco Inc.

"In 1993, IBM was a company in somewhat of a crisis mode," Mr. Rosenzweig said. "They needed to bring on a CEO to shake things up and move the company forward. What IBM looked at more so than sector experience was leadership abilities; someone who can map out where the business should be moving forward more than someone in the box with specific industry knowledge."

If early speculation is any indication, HP may be leaning to the traditional path. The leading candidates seem to be Ann Livermore, who leads HP's technology solutions group; and MCI Inc. CEO Michael Capellas, who was Compaq's CEO when it was acquired by HP in 2002.

As for Ms. Fiorina's future, it is not likely any move she makes will happen soon. With a severance package from HP of US$21.1-million, she has the luxury of time.

"Very often, CEOs will step back and take the time to rediscover who they are, and look deep inside themselves and determine who they are going forward," Mr. Rosenzweig said.

"I wouldn't be shocked if Fiorina decided for the next year or two to stay out of the business arena. To jump back into a corporate role would be surprising to me."

Francis McInerney, a principle with New York-based North River Ventures LLC, said there will likely be a large company that will need someone with Ms. Fiorina's skills. "It's all a matter of relative ability," he said. "Dell could never use someone like her in 1,000 years. There is always someone further down the learning curve who could use someone like her. A C or D player would be delighted to have her."

A long-shot job for Ms. Fiorina could be Nortel Networks Corp.'s CEO position to succeed Bill Owens. Ms. Fiorina knows the telecom industry from two decades spent with AT&T Corp. and Lucent Technologies Inc.

"Nortel needs some fresh air and they need some energy," said Eamon Hoey, a senior partner with Hoey Associates. "Without a doubt, she is tarnished but I think she is a woman of exceptional capability."

While the idea of Ms. Fiorina at Nortel is intriguing, it seems unlikely given the company recently hired Peter Currie as its chief financial officer. Mr. Currie is seen as the front-runner to replace Mr. Owens.

Another option for Ms. Fiorina may be politics. Ms. Fiorina was part of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's transition team and she made a large contribution to George Bush's presidential campaign. Ms. Fiorina's father, Joseph Sneed, was a conservative Republic lawyer who was appointed to the federal bench by Richard Nixon.