What It Takes

“I had set my sights on a man of brains, to whom I could look up, but what a terrible let down it would be to find out that I was smarter than he was.”

It seems Anita Loos didn’t like the man she married. When she died in New York City at the age of 92 – from natural causes –Helen Hayes and Ruth Gordon and Lillian Gish told all the old Hollywood stories at her memorial service, and Jule Styne played songs from Loos’ musicals – because Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend you know. Marilyn Monroe sang that song in the 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – the dumb blonde wasn’t that dumb after all – she knew what mattered. The original 1949 Broadway musical, written by Loos and Joseph Fields, had Carol Channing as Lorelei Lee, and that was based on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady – Loos’ 1925 novel. William Faulkner and Aldous Huxley and Edith Wharton wrote and told her they loved it. It was a bestseller – twenty printings in the next decade, eighty-five editions over the years, and it was eventually translated into fourteen languages, including Chinese. It struck a chord. People will always disappoint you. Hard assets never will. Grab what you can. Apologize for nothing.

Yes, Loos was a cynic, or a realist, depending on how you look at things. She was an admirer of H. L. Mencken, and when he was in New York she would hang with him and his crowd – Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis and a few others. She has no use for Dorothy Parker and those effete twerps over at that Algonquin Round Table. In 1925, on the train to Hollywood for another Norma Talmadge picture, Loos began to write a sketch of Mencken and his ditzy lady friends that would become Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

She wasn’t one of those. Loos had written screenplays for D. W. Griffith. She had written a series of screenplays that made Douglas Fairbanks a star. She was formidable and, at one time, as famous as any of the big stars, and the go-to lady of aggression. That’s why MGM eventually hired her. The first project they handed her was Jean Harlow’s Red-Headed Woman – because F. Scott Fitzgerald was having trouble adapting Katherine Brush’s book. Well, in his final years here in Hollywood, Fitzgerald was a moody fellow. Perhaps he missed Paris, but that picture, completed in May 1932, was a smash, and made Harlow as a star, and made Loos invaluable. Loos could create “shady lady” screenplays that could get by the censors at the time – the delicate double entendre, the subtle innuendo. She was good – and that’s how people came to understand the world. Everyone has an agenda. Sentiment is for fools. Show me the cash.

Anita Loos is pretty much forgotten now, even here in Hollywood, but diamonds are still a girl’s best friend. Sentiment is for fools, and women can be as aggressive as men. Those women who aren’t fools get what they want. Anita Loos, more than anyone else, established that in our popular culture. Madonna’s video “Material Girl” pretty much uses the set and costumes from the 1953 movie where Marilyn Monroe sings about her friends, those diamonds. Everyone gets it. We live in a material world. Cut the crap. Show me the cash.

Only a fool would believe otherwise, and that’s why Donald Trump opens all his events by telling everyone he’s rich, really, really rich – he’s made billions. But then he says that’s not the point, and it isn’t. He’s letting everyone know that he knows how to cut the crap. He has no use for sentiment, which he identifies as all that political correctness stuff. He gets to the point. He makes the deal. He fixes what’s broken. That’s what you want in a president. His billions simply prove that he’s your man.

Carly Fiorina makes a similar argument. She was CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred company, even if she was a woman. She was on the cover of Time. She doesn’t claim to be Jean Harlow or anything, but she can be tough as nails and get what she wants. She has no use for sentiment either. She’d slap America’s foes around. She’d fix what wrong here at home – and no one would give her any crap. They’d be gone. That’s how she ran things at Hewlett-Packard. That’s why they paid her the big bucks – but again, the money doesn’t matter. It’s why they paid her so well. She gets things done. She gets what she wants, and that’s what you want in a president. She’s your gal.

She is? That led to this odd exchange at the CNN Republican debate:

“You ran up mountains of debt using other people’s money,” she said of his Atlantic City casinos. Mr. Trump trashed her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, calling it “a disaster,” and said he made $10 billion. But the back-and-forth between the two may have given Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey his most memorable moment of the night.

Invited into the fight because Mr. Trump’s casinos are in New Jersey, Mr. Christie wagged his finger at both of his rivals (and at Jake Tapper, the moderator) by saying that they should stop talking about themselves.

“The fact is, we don’t want to hear about your careers,” he said, saying that the candidates should be talking about the difficulties faced by everyday Americans. “You’re both successful people. Congratulations,” he said, adding a moment later, “Stop this childish back-and-forth between the two of you.”

They looked puzzled and that led to this:

“While I’m as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly’s career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn’t have a job, who can’t fund his child’s education, I’ve got to tell you the truth: They could [not] care less about your careers,” Christie said. “They care about theirs.”

Chris Christie may be wrong about that. That construction worker out in that audience might want to know how each of them became so successful. What’s the secret? If the secret is aggressiveness and scorn, and grabbing what you can and never apologizing, then maybe that’s what we need in a president. And how come Chris Christie isn’t rich? What’s wrong with him?

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, writing at Politico, finds all of this a bit odd:

As a professor, hearing my name once, let alone twice, before 25 million TV viewers in an historic U.S. presidential debate is a surreal experience. “The head of the Yale business school, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, wrote a paper recently,” Donald Trump proclaimed in his attack on Carly Fiorina’s business record, “one of the worst tenures for a CEO that he has ever seen.” Immediately, the phones started ringing, text messages dinging, emails beeping – notes from thrilled old students, proud colleagues, teasing friends, pleased former teachers, curious clients, and my own immediate family in shared, flushed, utter shock.

But Trump was right:

As Fiorina admits, I have been critical of her for over a decade – long before she announced her political aspirations. I have studied her business record, challenged her leadership abilities and have come to agree with the assessment that she was one of the worst technology CEOs in history. I stand by that evaluation. …

Here are the facts: In the five years that Fiorina was at Hewlett Packard, the company lost over half its value. It’s true that many tech companies had trouble during this period of the Internet bubble collapse, some falling in value as much as 27 percent; but HP under Fiorina fell 55 percent. During those years, stocks in companies like Apple and Dell rose. Google went public, and Facebook was launched. The S&P 500 yardstick on major U.S. firms showed only a 7 percent drop. Plenty good was happening in U.S. industry and in technology.

This, then, was a leadership issue:

After an unsuccessful attempt to catch up to IBM’s growth in IT services by buying PricewaterhouseCooper’s consulting business (PwC, ironically, ended up going to IBM instead), she abruptly abandoned the strategic goal of expanding IT services and consulting and moved into heavy metal. At a time that devices had become a low margin commodity business, Fiorina bought for $25 billion the dying Compaq computer company, which was composed of other failed businesses. Unsurprisingly, the Compaq deal never generated the profits Fiorina hoped for, and HP’s stock price fell by half. The only stock pop under Fiorina’s reign was the 7 percent jump the moment she was fired following a unanimous board vote. After the firing, HP shuttered or sold virtually all Fiorina had bought.

There’s no defense for that:

During the debate, Fiorina countered that she wasn’t a failure because she doubled revenues. That’s an empty measurement. What good is doubling revenue by acquiring a huge company if you’re not making any profit from it? The goals of business are to raise profits, increase employment and add value. During Fiorina’s tenure, thanks to the Compaq deal, profits fell, employees were laid off and value plummeted. Fiorina was paid over $100 million for this accomplishment.

At the time, most industry analysts, HP shareholders, HP employees and even some HP board members resisted the Compaq deal. (Fiorina prevailed in the proxy battle, with 51.4 percent, partly thanks to ethically questionable tactics, but that’s another story.) But rather than listen to the concerns of her opponents, she ridiculed them, equating dissent with disloyalty. As we saw during the debate when she attacked me, rather than listen to or learn from critics, Fiorina disparages them. She did so regularly to platoons of her own top lieutenants and even her board of directors – until they fired her.

These facts have been documented, both with quotes from her own board members and leadership team and with raw numbers in such revered publications as Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and leading tech industry journals. I also have extensive first-hand knowledge of this situation, having spoken at length with two of Fiorina’s successors, past and present HP board members, fellow CEOs and scores of HP employees – including many of her own top lieutenants who contacted me directly, such as her head of employee relations.

Again there’s no defense:

If the board was wrong, the employees wrong, and the shareholders wrong – as Fiorina maintains – why in 10 years has she never been offered another public company to run?

Now, Fiorina wants to run the country. I am a firm believer in second chances. Just because Fiorina failed at an early career does not preclude her from becoming a good leader later. But I do know, having written a book on how great leaders rebound after career disasters, that to overcome failure is to admit to it and learn from it. During the debate, instead of addressing the facts and taking on my professional observations, Fiorina decided to shoot the messenger. What she failed to see is that this behavior – sidestepping accountability by resorting to demagoguery and deflection – is exactly why she failed as a leader the last time.

And you can’t lie:

Fiorina brags that she doubled revenues – but she cut value in half. She talks about doubling employment at HP when all she did was combine the employment of two huge firms – and then lay off 30,000 employees. She presents her story as rags to riches saga, from secretary to CEO, when in fact she is the daughter of a Duke University Law School dean and a federal Appeals Court judge. She just worked for a few months as a receptionist after dropping out of UCLA law school.

And there are a few other things:

She makes irresponsible decisions. At HP, Fiorina abruptly pivoted from a strategy of chasing IT services to a splashier, but less sound strategy of ramping up in device manufacturing. While her predecessor, revered HP CEO Lew Platt, traveled coach in commercial planes, she demanded the company buy her a Gulfstream IV.

She is intolerant of dissent and resorts to personal attacks. Rather than address the points made by her critics – she elects to attack their character with false information, shifting the spotlight away from her. And, as much as she laid into Trump for his comments about her face, she has been known to be a queen of personal invective – even when it comes to physical appearance. She once ridiculed the music interests and appearance of a dissenting board member Walter Hewitt, son of HP’s co-founder – as well as the allegedly dowdy look of rival Senate candidate Barbara Boxer.

Sonnenfeld has much more, but it comes down to this:

If the Republican Party seeks great women leaders with proven track records of accomplishment and character for national office, I could recommend many, including New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski and, especially, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. But Fiorina is not one of them. Her unacknowledged record of failure and intolerant, no-dissent “my way or the highway” leadership style might better fit high office in China or Russia – or on “The Apprentice” for that matter.

Yes, Donald Trump is just the same, and some things are hard to explain:

Carly Fiorina said Sunday that neither she nor Hewlett-Packard should be faulted for the sales of millions of HP printers in Iran when such business was prohibited by U.S. law. Appearing on Fox’s Fox News Sunday, Fiorina said that despite being the CEO of HP when the Iranian sales took place via a third party, she was unaware of them.

“First, HP, you need to remember, was larger than each of the 50 states,” Fiorina said. “It’s a larger budget than any one of our 50 states, and a global enterprise. And so it’s impossible to ensure that nothing wrong ever happens. The question is what you do when you find out.”

“Are you saying you didn’t know about it?” host Chris Wallace asked.

“In fact, the SEC investigation proved that neither I nor anyone else in management knew about it…” she insisted, adding, “…when the company discovered this three years after I left, they cut off all ties. The SEC investigated very thoroughly and concluded that no one in management was aware.”

She knew nothing, so it wasn’t her fault, but even the guys at Fox News can ask questions:

A 2008 Boston Globe investigation found that, while U.S. companies were banned from selling goods to Iran, an Indian company in Dubai called Redington Gulf had sold HP printers there. They sold them so well, in fact, that HP had 41 percent market share in Iran by 2007. Redington Gulf obtained the printers through a European subsidiary.

Wallace asked Fiorina why HP had named Redington Gulf its “Wholesaler of the Year” award in 2003 if the company wasn’t aware of its sales to Iran, Fiorina again deflected blame.

“The wholesaler of the year that you’re describing was doing business with another company that was doing business with Iran. Clearly that wholesaler of the year, which should not have been wholesaler of the year, was not honest in their dealings with us, and they were not honest in their dealings with this third company.”

It wasn’t her fault. She knew nothing, and one thinks of Rick Scott. Scott was CEO of the hospital chain HCA when those folks admitted to fourteen felonies involving Medicare fraud and agreed to pay the federal government over six hundred million dollars in fines. Scott said he didn’t realize what his subordinates had been doing at all and took the Fifth over a hundred times – and then went on to become a venture capitalist, and then Florida’s governor. The voters of Florida had no problem at all with that. They might have thought that Scott was pretty clever – an admirable trait. He got off. Fiorina also didn’t know what was going on here. Maybe voters nationwide will have no problem at all with that. They might even think she was clever for selling all those printers to Iran and letting someone else take the blame. Maybe that’s cool.

Steve Chapman notes what isn’t cool:

You might forget that when Fiorina ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 against incumbent Barbara Boxer, she was caught on video belittling her opponent in Trump-like fashion: “God, what is that hair? So yesterday!”

At Wednesday’s debate Fiorina was equally facile, and equally misleading, on more substantive topics. Asked how to handle Vladimir Putin, she replied, “What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the 6th Fleet; I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland; I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”

This was nonsense:

It was the sort of litany that thrills conservatives, but as policy, it was the second day of a garage sale – replete with items that are useless, superfluous or irrelevant. The U.S. Navy is the biggest and most capable on Earth. We spend eight times more on defense than Russia – without counting what our NATO allies spend. If all that doesn’t intimidate Putin, a slightly augmented 6th Fleet isn’t going to make his blood run cold. Neither is “a few thousand more troops” in Germany. Putting bases and GIs in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania might deter aggression against them – but oddly, she didn’t suggest it.

Barack Obama canceled a missile defense program in Poland because it didn’t work. He replaced it with a system that Robert Gates, his defense secretary (and George W. Bush’s), believed was better. Obama has also conducted military exercises in the Baltic States. Putin would get the message, all right: that Fiorina is a fraud.

And there’s this:

She wowed the crowd by daring Obama and Hillary Clinton to watch the video from a Planned Parenthood abortion of “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

The nonpartisan FactCheck.org noted an inconvenient fact: “The scene she described, though, does not exist in any of the videos” released by the Center for Medical Progress. Other fact checkers agreed, and her campaign offered no footage to rebut them.

Chapman adds this:

What was obvious to anyone who watched the debate is what BusinessWeek noted when she took over HP: “Carly Fiorina has a silver tongue and an iron will.” The rest, however, is fool’s gold.

That’s a clever line, but this was always about real gold. Trump made billions of dollars. That must mean something. In 2004, the HP board of directors gave Fiorina twenty-one million dollars to just go away – two and a half times her annual salary plus bonus and the balance from accelerated vesting of stock options. She did well. She hasn’t worked since. That must mean something. Both say this means a lot. They know how to win.

Do they? Perhaps Donald Trump will open his next event in a slinky dress, singing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. And Anita Loos could create wonderful “shady lady” screenplays, where the aggressive woman who laughs at sentiment gets just what she wants. She’d understand Carly Fiorina. Anita Loos would also be laughing her ass off.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to What It Takes

  1. Rick says:

    Not to take away from that extremely helpful critique of Carly Fiorina — the success so far of whom being, I think, as equally unwarranted and unsustainable as that of Donald Trump — but I really did think all this “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” talk was going somewhere else.

    The thing is, I’m just not into bling, and I don’t understand its attraction. I especially don’t think much of diamonds, since whatever sparkle they give off can be achieved at much less cost, with costume jewelry. But that, of course, would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? The point of a diamond is not so much that it’s beautiful but that it’s somewhat expensive, isn’t it? I mean, diamonds are attractive, I guess, if you like that sort of thing, but they’re certainly not as pretty as they are expensive.

    And they’re only expensive because they’re rare, and only rare because of artificial scarcity, with mostly one company making sure not too much of the stuff comes to market at one time.

    In other words, the market for diamonds is a bubble, and if, suddenly, two or three times as many “high quality” diamonds showed up for sale, people would stop finding them so attractive, and then even more people would stop finding them attractive, and everyone would realize that, ultimately, a diamond is mostly useless. Oh, sure, we can make drill bits out of them, but who wants some drill bit decorating your finger?

    So for a moment, I suspected the point was going to be about what Donald Trump has in common with a diamond.

    The truth is, diamonds are only popular because they’re popular; once people stop wanting them, people would stop wanting them, and they’d eventually come to see a diamond as nothing more than a fancy lump of coal.

    Likewise, Trump’s poll numbers are only up because his poll numbers are up, but once the other candidates show they have something more to say about the country’s problems than his “We’ll be looking into that”, Trump’s numbers will start to slip, and then they will continue to drop, mostly because they’d be dropping — at which point, his supporters will wake up and notice that he’s just another fancy, although also mostly useless, lump of coal.

    Fiorina’s story is a bit more complicated. Once her real history becomes more widely known, there may still be those who will say, “So what! I like her spunk!”, but I think those people will eventually be in the minority, and she will find herself, like Trump, out of the running. Right now, the markets for both Trump and Fiorina are bubbles, and at some point before the season really gets going, I think both the Donald and Carly bubbles will pop.

    But enough of the good news. The bad news is, try to imagine who from this bench will replace them!


  2. carl says:

    Good perspective on the working class Carly :-)

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