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Chainsaw Carly

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Chainsaw Carly

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US Senate candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina celebrates her primary win

"Chainsaw Carly" isn't U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's nickname for her Republican challenger, Carly Fiorina. "Chainsaw Carly" is the title of the chapter in Fiorina's own memoir, Tough Choices, that talks about job cuts she made as CEO of Hewlett Packard.

In these first few days of the general election, Boxer has attacked Fiorina for firing 30,000 people at HP. Judging from her book (which puts the number at 21,000), Fiorina was quite proud of those cuts.

In the book, which is refreshingly self-critical at times, Fiorina describes HP as a company that had stopped evaluating employees smartly. She portrays herself as someone who came in, worked to figure out who was good and who was expendable, and then took action when others wouldn't.

The decision to cut jobs is tied up in her account of a merger she pursued with Compaq (a controversial and complicateddecision that requires much more than a blog post to explain). Fiorina doesn't come off as heartless in her own account. She notes that the cuts were traumatic for HP and for people, and describes herself as going the extra mile to give separated employees dignity and time to find new jobs. 

But there's plenty in her own book that could be used against her on this subject. She writes, on page 235 of the paperback edition, that she shook off suggestions on delaying the job cuts until after the completion of the merger because "failure to take swift action would have resulted in losses for HP, and I was adamant that I wouldn't be the first CEO to post a loss for the company in sixty years." Look for Boxer to spin that to say: Fiorina was more worried about her reputation than about her employees.

Fiorina is also self-critical on this point. She writes that she might have been wise to take more time in deciding who to fire. "I probably should have taken an extra several weeks and allowed managers a little more time to identify the people who would leave the business. Perhaps in my need for speed I sacrificed broader-based acceptance of the decision. Perhaps I underestimated people's ability to step up to what had to be done."

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