Carleton S. Fiorina, a top manager at telecommunications giant Lucent Technologies Inc., yesterday made history when she was chosen to head Silicon Valley's largest company, thereby becoming the first female member of an exclusive club -- the chief executives who lead the 30 companies included in the Dow Jones industrial average.

In choosing Fiorina, computer and printer giant Hewlett-Packard Co. broke with another tradition by reaching outside of its own insular corporate culture to snare a 44-year-old woman with a reputation for openness and verve.

"This is a substantial company, not only top 30, but edgy and in the forefront of technology, which stereotypically has been male-dominated," said Lynn Martin, the former secretary of labor and women's rights advocate who is now a professor of public policy at Northwestern University. "She will automatically be a presence."

Fiorina herself played down the importance of her gender in the selection process.

"My gender is interesting, but really not the subject of the story here," Fiorina said to reporters in a telephone news conference.

Fiorina takes over the reins of a $47 billion company in the midst of a midlife corporate makeover, a leader in personal computing and office equipment that is trying to establish itself as one of the dominant players on the Internet.

Fiorina also becomes one of only three women to head a Fortune 500 company, and part of a very select group of top female executives at high-technology firms. However, most of them started the businesses they lead, such as Katherine K. Clark, chief executive of Reston-based software company Landmark Systems Corp., and Margaret C. Whitman, chief executive of online auctioneer eBay Inc.

"It's really rare to be hired on in the CEO role," Landmark's Clark said. "If they get there it's usually their own company."

Fiorina, Clark said, "made her reputation in a traditional good-ole-boy, glass-ceiling environment. It marks the end of an era."

In this case, Hewlett-Packard was considering another woman for the top post -- Ann Livermore, a company veteran who is the architect of its Internet strategy. But chairman Lewis E. Platt indicated the company was eager to bring in an outsider.

A study released last year by Catalyst Inc., a New York-based organization that tracks women's participation in the work force, found that only 3 percent of top executive positions at Fortune 500 companies were held by women.

Fiorina's ascendancy also reflects the changing makeup of the top ranks of Corporate America, where a fortysomething generation is assuming the reins from older executives. These newer leaders, analysts say, embrace a more collegial and open management style -- one that some believe will prove more receptive to nontraditional hiring patterns.

In the news conference, Fiorina left little doubt she intends to imbue "HP" with a new culture of energy and urgency, something the company has been lacking of late as it does battle with a reinvigorated International Business Machines Corp. and more nimble competitors such as Sun Microsystems Inc.

"It's clear we do not have the sufficient focus on speed," Fiorina said, promising to "make the changes necessary to reinvigorate this business."

Hewlett-Packard stock rose 1.97 percent yesterday, or $2.25, on the announcement, ending the day at $116.25, a record close. It has risen about 70 percent since March, when Platt said the company would split its test and measuring equipment business and core computing and printing units into two companies, while seeking a new CEO.

After an eclectic youth spent attending high schools on three continents and reading Aristotle in its original Greek, Fiorina majored in medieval history and philosophy at Stanford University and did a brief stint at the law school of the University of California at Los Angeles before a sojourn in Italy teaching English.

A job as a receptionist at a New York brokerage followed. There she developed an interest in business that led her to the University of Maryland and a master's degree in marketing. A sales position at AT&T Corp. began a 20-year career in telecommunications, culminating in her running Lucent's largest unit.

Although a novice in the world of finance at the time, she spearheaded one of the most successful initial public offerings of stock when she led the $3 billion spinoff of Lucent from its parent, AT&T, in 1996.

"The great thing she did, she knew how to sell," said Jeff Williams, a partner at Greenhill & Co. in New York, who led the underwriting team at Morgan, Stanley that managed the Lucent IPO. "She's very open-minded. She has a strong view, but she listens."

Fiorina once told an interviewer that she had let down her father, a former deputy attorney general in the Nixon administration, by dropping out of law school. Her father, Joseph Sneed, seemed anything but disappointed yesterday upon hearing of his daughter's good fortune.

"Whatever disappointment I hadthen has been overcome 1,000 times," said Sneed, now a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. "Law was not for her; she's a doer."

Respected in the telecommunications industry for her role leading Lucent's $20 billion Global Service Providers business, Fiorina is credited by analysts with expanding the international reach of Lucent's telecommunications equipment sector, as well as accelerating growth at the company's largest division.

"It's a great choice," said Art Russell, an analyst who follows Hewlett-Packard at Edward Jones & Co. "She's very well-respected in the technology field, and she's done a great job at Lucent."

Fiorina, currently a director of Kellogg Co. and Merck & Co., will join the Hewlett-Packard board. She deflected questions about how much money she will make at Hewlett-Packard, other than to say her compensation package will be similar to that of a high-technology startup, suggesting she will be granted a large number of stock options.

One of the country's pioneer high-tech firms, Hewlett-Packard has fallen behind its competitors in the past couple of years. In March, chairman Platt announced plans to reorganize the company and give the various division heads more autonomy.

The moves were designed to recharge Hewlett-Packard and position it to better take advantage of the Internet's growth in the mainstream in business and society. Hewlett-Packard intends to do this by focusing more heavily on the sale of high-powered "server" computers that handle traffic on the Internet, as well as by developing online sales outlets such as Hewlett-Packard's Shopping Village.

Referring to this strategy, Fiorina said the company plans to "play a leading role in the second chapter of the Internet."

Washington Post Staff Writers Shannon Henry and Kirstin Downey-Grimsley contributed to this report.

In Profile

Carly Fiorina

Age: 44

Growing up: Born in Austin to an abstract artist (her mother) and a law professor (her father); went to high schools in Ghana, London, North Carolina and Palo Alto, Calif.

Education: Has a bachelor's degree in medieval history and philosophy from Stanford University; attended law school at the University of California, Los Angeles, then dropped out; has an MBA in marketing from the University of Maryland, College Park and a master's in science from MIT's Sloan School.

Career highlights: Taught English in Bologna, Italy. Worked for 20 years at AT&T and Lucent Technologies, most recently as president of Lucent's Global Service Providers business. She headed the planning and execution of Lucent's 1996 initial public offering and spinoff from AT&T. Yesterday became chief executive and president of Hewlett-Packard.

Personal: Married; she and her husband have two adult daughters.

Other: Fiorina is a member of the board of directors of Kellogg and Merck. She was recently elected to the U.S. China Board of Trade.

SOURCES: News reports, Hewlett-Packard

CAPTION: Turning Around (This graphic was not available)

CAPTION: Carleton S. Fiorina will run Silicon Valley's biggest firm.

CAPTION: Carleton S. Fiorina, left, appears at a news conference with Lew Platt, whom she succeeds as CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. (Photo ran in an earlier edition)