— GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, interview on Fox News, May 5, 2015
(This column has been updated to make it clear that questions about the statement were answered by Fiorina’s Super PAC.)
Fiorina is running for president in part on her record in the business world, as a former executive at AT&T, Lucent and Hewlett-Packard. On the surface, that might seem like a hard sell, given that she was fired as chief executive of HP less than six years after she took the helm in mid-1999. “Carly Fiorina’s time at the top of HP was a disaster” is the subhed for a Bloomberg article that recently appeared in The Chicago Tribune.
Still, Fiorina has her talking points, which are also echoed on her Web site: “Under Carly’s leadership, great things happened at HP: Doubled revenues; more than quadrupled its growth rate; tripled the rate of innovation, with 11 patents a day.”
So let’s check each of these claims as she framed them. The campaign directed questions to Fiorina’s Super PAC, Carly for America.
“We took a company and doubled it in size to almost $90 billion.”
This is figure based on revenue. According to the company’s annual 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, net revenue was $42.37 billion in 1999 and $86.7 billion in 2005.
That’s certainly double, but the key factor for the jump in revenue was Fiorina’s decision in 2001 to merge HP with a rival company, Compaq. In that year, Compaq had revenue of $33 billion and HP had revenue of $45 billion, or a combined total of $78 billion.
Moreover, the statistics don’t tell the story about how difficult the merger was. (For some fascinating–and critical–history, read this Fortune magazine article from 2005 titled “Why Carly’s big bet is failing.”) Fiorina pushed the merger to make HP the dominant maker of personal computers — just as PCs began their long decline. HP announced in 2014 that it would spin off its PC and printer business, signaling that it was giving up on Fiorina’s gambit.
“We took the growth rate from two percent to nine percent.”
This is an astonishingly cherry-picked figure. Fiorina was named HP’s chief executive effective July 17, 1999. HP operates on a fiscal year that ends Oct. 31, so the third quarter ends on July 31.
The Fiorina Super PAC initially said it was comparing first quarters of 2000 and 2005, which didn’t make much sense, except for the fact that she was forced out in the first quarter. Then officials compared a year to year growth for the second quarter (ending April 30) in 1999, which was 2 percent, to the full year figure for 2004.
Yet given that Fiorina started on July 17, using the third quarter probably makes more sense. The net revenue growth in that quarter was 12 percent, not 2 percent. In other words, growth can vary from quarter to quarter, making it a misleading metric for evaluating a nearly six-year tenure.
Annual revenue comparisons make the most sense. Fiorina only headed HP for three months in the fiscal year of 1999, so that year is an appropriate base. The net revenue growth in 1999 was 7 percent, according to the 10-K. Fiorina only headed HP during the first quarter of 2005, so let’s use the growth figure for fiscal year 2004. The 10-K says revenue growth was 9 percent, but much of that was due to currency exchange rates, so on constant currency basis the revenue growth was 3 percent.
Thus, apples to apples, revenue growth went from 7 percent before she started to 3 percent when she left — not from 2 to 9.
“We tripled the rate of innovation to 11 patents a day.”
Patents are the lifeblood of the technology industry. As evidence of this claim, the Fiorina Super PAC points to the fact that the 2005 10-K says that HP’s patent portfolio was over 30,000 as of Oct. 31, 2005, while a news article from 1999 quotes her as saying the company had 10,000 patents.
That is certainly a tripling of patents, but the statement was about the rate of patents a day. That 1999 article quotes Fiorina as saying that patents were growing at a rate of five patents a day, so that should be considered the base for comparison.
The gap between the two statements is almost six years (Dec. 1999 to Oct. 2005), so 20,000 additional patents indicates a growth rate of 9 patents a day. (The campaign counts it as five years, for a rate of 11 a day.) Either way, that a doubling of the rate, not a tripling.
Also, the purchase of Compaq added to HP’s patent portfolio. While we could not determine a precise number for Compaq patent portfolio at the time of the merger, HP’s 2003 10-K suggests Compaq added about 3,000 patents. So that takes off about a patent a day, resulting in an innovation rate of about 8 patents a day.
In a 2002 speech, Fiorina bragged about HP obtaining 1,000 patents in 2001—which is a rate of three a day.
No matter how you slice it, there’s no way the rate of creating new patents tripled under Fiorina. It is probably a stretch to say the rate doubled.
“We grew jobs.”
This statement is based on the fact that the number of employees was 84,800 in 1999 and 151,000 in 2004, according to the 10-K reports. On paper, that certainly looks like an increase in jobs.
But before the merger with Compaq, HP had 86,200 employees and Compaq had 63,700 employees. That adds up to 149,900. HP’s filings show that the combined company had 141,000 employees in 2002 and 142,000 employees in 2003. By 2005, the number was 150,000. In other words, the number of employees barely budged from the pre-merger total–and people lost jobs as a result.
The Los Angeles Times, evaluating Fiorina’s record when she ran for the Senate in 2010, noted that during her tenure HP also acquired more than a dozen other companies with at least 8,000 employees. Indeed, Fiorina has acknowledged firing more than 30,000 workers in the wake of the Compaq merger.
“It is true, I managed Hewlett-Packard through the worst technology recession in 25 years,” she told Fox News Sunday in 2010. “And in those tough times, we had to make some tough calls.”
Given these facts, it’s a stretch to say she “grew jobs.”
Leslie Shedd, press secretary for Carly for America, issued the following statement: “During Carly’s tenure at HP, she doubled revenue, tripled innovation, and quadrupled cash flow. Under Carly’s leadership, HP weathered the 2001 economic recession that shuttered some of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley. Carly Fiorina made the tough decisions that were necessary to reform the company, and HP and its shareholders reaped the rewards of those decisions after she left.”
The Pinocchio Test
Every politician tries to put a gloss on their record, but Fiorina’s claims about her business success are questionable in almost every respect. Her statements either lack significant context or resulted from a creative cherry-picking of the facts. She earns Three Pinocchios.
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