The Knives Come Out For Carly Fiorina’s Business Resume

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina takes part in the presidential debates at the Reagan Library on September 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, California. Fifteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the second set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is clearly a threat, following a meteoric rise in the polls that took her from a seat at the Asterisk Table in the undercard debate to a top-three position. Of course, that means she must be destroyed, and it has to be done early.

After what happened in the 2012 election, political strategists are convinced that private-sector experience must be defined as a negative early in the race, making it difficult for a resume to be brandished without reflexive mutters of “Yeah, but I heard he was a vampire investor who sucked companies dry and fired everybody,” or “Her career was so controversial the company fired her!”

Are we really going to do this again? We’re coming off a Democrat president who couldn’t run a corner lemonade stand without a billion-dollar taxpayer subsidy. His aspiring successors include a self-described socialist and a woman who sold political influence to rack up a $100 million fortune. Are we really going to pick apart a successful businesswoman’s resume, and reinforce the idea that no one who ever held an important private-sector job should ever bother running for high office? Only lifetime political animals whose media pals can spin away their failures – even the ones with body counts – need apply? Barack Obama isn’t responsible for a single thing he’s ever done, but Carly Fiorina is responsible for everything that happened at her companies, years after she left?

It’s not just Obama, although he might be the most extreme case of blame-shifting in the history of the Republic – he was last seen stumbling around Washington looking for a way to blame Syria on someone, anyone, everyone else. Politicians are extraordinarily good at two things: claiming credit and evading responsibility. They’ve all got a list of reasons why nothing bad that happens on their watch is really their fault. Their plans are always brilliant. It’s not their fault reality turns out to be so dull. No such excuses are afforded to former corporate executives. The dominant media culture thinks they’re all essentially white-collar criminals with sharp lawyers anyway.

The new line of attack on Fiorina goes back to before her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, which she’s been defending very capably, to her time as an executive of Lucent Technologies. The New York Times explains the situation:

It was at Lucent — Latin for “light-bearing” — that Mrs. Fiorina made her name, running several of its divisions and overseeing its successful initial public offering, which at the time was the largest I.P.O in American history. In 1998, she appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine, ranked No. 1 on its inaugural “Most Powerful Women in Business” list.

Yet her celebrated tenure at Lucent has been clouded by what happened two years after she left in 1999. The once-highflying business worth more than $250 billion at its peak nearly collapsed in the face of an accounting scandal and the telecommunications bust. The company laid off 50,000 employees in 2001 alone. Today the company, after merging with Alcatel of France, is worth only about $10 billion.

Lucent, like some its rivals, artificially burnished its financial performance through vendor financing — lending money to customers so they could buy its products. In 2004, the company settled charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission that accused it of perpetrating a $1.1 billion accounting fraud.

“It’s unlikely she would have been considered for the HP job once it became clear that Lucent’s success had more to do with loose credit terms and creative accounting than any reinvention of the company as the Second Coming of Cisco,” Rakesh Khurana, a Harvard professor who studied Mrs. Fiorina’s tenure, said in “Backfire: Carly Fiorina’s High-Stakes Battle for the Soul of Hewlett-Packard,” a book by the financial journalist Peter Burrows.

1999? For years, we’ve been listening to Obama shills tell us everything he did more than five days ago is “old news” that isn’t worth discussing, and Hillary Clinton’s defenders are ready to blow blood vessels if anyone dredges up her thoughts on the veracity of sexual harassment and assault victims from the late Nineties. The Wayback Machine is always fully charged and ready to jump when it comes to Republicans, however.

Still, this sounds pretty serious. Carly Fiorina was the architect of an accounting fraud that resulted in $1.1 billion in SEC penalties? Well… no, she wasn’t. But she worked with some people who later came under scrutiny!

While Mrs. Fiorina wasn’t responsible for the accounting fraud — she was never accused of being involved in any financial shenanigans — she did work with, and helped support, some of the employees who came under legal scrutiny for acts that took place after she left. One of those executives was Nina Aversano, a senior executive at Lucent who played a role in the company’s aggressive sales and accounting tactics. Mrs. Fiorina, somewhat famously inside of Lucent, literally kissed the feet of Ms. Aversano on stage in front of hundreds of employees after a particularly good quarter.

Some former Lucent employees, however, say it is unfair to blame Mrs. Fiorina for Ms. Aversano’s actions or for the financial prestidigitation, which were authorized by Lucent’s chief executive, not by Mrs. Fiorina. At least one former executive, Kathy Fitzgerald, who ran the company’s communications department, recalled that Mrs. Fiorina was hesitant about using vendor financing and while she was there “it was constrained,” suggesting the practice become worse after her departure.

“To place blame on Carly for anything that happened at the company after she left is completely irresponsible and absolutely ridiculous,” Leslie Shedd, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Fiorina, said.

They also note that Lucent’s near-death experience occurred alongside an industrywide collapse that sent companies like WorldCom and Global Crossing into bankruptcy. By comparison, Lucent emerged from the telecom bust in decent shape.

I haven’t seen a story self-destruct this fast since the last time the Impossible Mission Force handed out assignments on tapes that burst into flames after they were finished playing. We’re supposed to give Obama a total pass on making a trillion dollars of stimulus loot vanish without visible benefit, poured into Democrat slush funds and corruption sinkholes, capped off by him laughing about how golly gee whiz, there was no such thing as a “shovel-ready job” after all. We’re supposed to forget about all those green energy scams, with giant piles of money disappearing into the sweaty palms of big Obama donors. But everybody freak out about what happened two years after Carly Fiorina left Lucent, late in the Clinton presidency!

Our children will be paying the tab for Barack Obama’s irresponsibility for generations to come, but you’re not allowed to complain about that, or demand any of your money back. Instead, you should follow meandering stories that retail every single less-than-optimum development at Fiorina’s companies, even when they had virtually nothing to do with her.

The New York Times story actually hammers Fiorina for failing to stop a poorly-managed acquisition that went down when she was no longer in charge… because she didn’t speak out loudly against it when she was consulted for advice. Only at the very end of the piece is it casually mentioned that the actual CEOs of the company – one of whom was a New York Times board member – might be a bit more responsible for some of the bad stuff than Fiorina was. Then it’s all taken back with a stinger that invites the reader to go ahead and surf that wave of bad vibes anyway: “Regardless, her senior role at Lucent deserves continued focus as the country debates her presidential bona fides.”

How about the bona fides of all those Democrat candidates who never achieved anything in the private sector? For that matter, how about the bona fides of Bill Clinton – treated as a technocratic savant in Democrat mythology for surfing the very same telecom bubble that popped and led to hard times at Lucent Technologies? He gets all the credit for the good times rolling, and none of the blame for the wave breaking, right? Just as the politicians who engineered the subprime mortgage crisis get none of the blame for using government power to create a system that nearly crashed the finances of the entire planet when it failed.

Democrats love to posture as CEOs of America, Inc., because they get to play with other peoples’ money, they think America Inc. can never go bankrupt, and they’re confident of their ability to escape accountability for anything bad that happens. No lawsuits, no controlling legal authority, no audit of the federal government’s accounting practices, no refunds, no escape from even the most fraudulent and disastrous programs. Their behavior toward people with actual business experience who try to clean up their $3 trillion pretend “company” is unremittingly hostile. God forbid anyone who ever had to answer to shareholders take charge and begin treating American taxpayers as such.