When Carly Fiorina was announced as the Victory Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) last month it was a coup for the party. Fiorina is a well-known superstar in the business and technology world.
When she was CEO, or She-EO as some called her, at Hewlett-Packard, she was named 'The most powerful woman in business' by Fortune Magzine. When I saw her keynote at a Comdex tradeshow in Las Vegas a few years ago, the audience acted as if she was a rockstar.
At the appointment she said, "I look forward to having a dialogue with the American people about why John McCain will be a great President and why the Republican Party has the best ideas on how to keep our country safe, prosperous, and strong."
Known for her business career, Fiorina has also been active in politics, working with President Bush, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Members of Congress on technology issues. She has advised the Departments of Defense and State, USAID, and the CIA.
"Carly Fiorina is a great asset to our Victory program," RNC Co-Chairman Jo Ann Davidson said. "Her experience in business and government give her incredible insight into the economy and we are fortunate to have her as part of the team, especially in this critical election year."
When Senator McCain came to Ohio to speak in Youngstown on Tuesday April 22nd, I got a chance to interview Carly Fiorina. As the Great Lakes Geek, I would have been content to spend hours talking about her days at Hewlett-Packard, but, of course, her current role as Victory Chairman was more newsworthy.
Due to a series of unfortunate events that would make Lemony Snicket seem to be an optimist, the audio of the interview is just not broadcast quality. Though Murphy and his laws did their best, we can at least publish a transcript of key parts of the interview. Ain't technology wonderful?
Dan Hanson: She is one of a handful of people that you recognize by just one name - like Oprah or LeBron. Today we are speaking with Carly, Carly Fiorina, perhaps best known for her recent role as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
Welcome to the Great Lakes Geek show, Carly.
Carly Fiorina: Thank you Dan. It's nice to be here. How are you today?
DH: Good, thanks. You have a new role now as the Republican National Committee's Victory Chairman - tell us about that.
CF: Well, my role as Victory Chair is really to advocate on behalf of John McCain and the party and it's been a great run…I think John McCain is a truly unique leader and we need him right now for our economy and for our nation.
DH: Before we get into some of the issues of the campaign and Ohio in particular, let's touch on some quick background.
Before your MBA from Maryland and MS from MIT, you got your B.A. in Medieval History and Philosophy from Stanford University - that's almost begging for a job asking "do you want fries with that" How did you choose your majors?
CF: ( Laughs) Well you're right. It left me unemployable… then I dropped out of law school because I didn't like it and actually started my business career as a secretary… I studied medieval history and philosophy because I found it fascinating. It was pure intellectual curiosity.
DH: We see significantly fewer young girls in math and science and fewer women in the IT world. Is it societal pressures? Is there a silicon ceiling? Why is that and what can be done about it? We know that girls have the ability and we need that majority of the population to compete.
CF: Yeah, you know we have too few math and science graduates in general in this country and that's why the high-tech community continues to bring people in from overseas. I think it's wonderful that people want to come to this country and build their lives here but we really have to make the most of every brain we have in this country and that certainly includes women and girls and it includes minorities as well. Our education system is falling further and further behind and in the 21st century we can't afford to leave any brain uneducated so we have to make sure that all our young people - girls and boys and Hispanic Americans and African Americans and Anglo Americans and everybody - has the basic tools and skills to compete in the 21st century and it's why John McCain talks so much about education reform as well as retraining.
DH: Another woman business star has joined the McCain team, Meg Whitman the outgoing CEO of eBay. Besides bringing business and tech advice to the campaign, do you see you and Meg as role models for young women and girls?
CF: Well I certainly hope so. I know Meg well and I'm truly delighted that she has joined the campaign as well. I hope that one of the things that Meg and I will make known to the young people is that everything is possible in America. That you can do anything you truly believe in doing. Yes there are barriers. I know that. You know my first meeting with a customer happened in a strip club because that's where you first met in my day and age. I know what the barriers are. I know what the hurdles are and I know how hard those feelings feel but this is a country where everything is possible if people are equipped with the right tools, the right training and if they have the opportunities provided to them.
DH: Wow, with cell phone cameras and YouTube, a meeting like that would be all over the 'Net today.
CF: Yet I meet young women all over the country who surprisingly tell me similar stories. You know, sexism isn't dead.
DH: Your Business and Tech advice will be important. The 3 candidates who are running right now are all Senators - they don't really have any real executive experience in that they weren't a CEO or Governor, etc - How will that translate to the Presidency?
CF: Well first I think it's important to recognize that the president is not like a CEO, I mean, yes the president is in charge of a vast organization but I mean that a president doesn't manage the economy for example in this country the way a CEO manages a company. What I think a president does require is an understanding of how the economy works and an understanding of how the world works and an understanding of the role that the government can play and an understanding of the role the federal government shouldn't play and I think John McCain understands all that very well…He believes in gathering the best and brightest talent that America has to offer around him and he's a guy who takes advice and listens and learns and that's important as well.
DH: There have been some concerns from the far-right side of the party. The hard-line conservatives are not as thrilled with Senator McCain as some - how does he make them happy and still reach independent voters? It almost seems analogous to the situation you faced with: "She's not doing things the HP way" and there's that core group that wanted things done Bill and Dave's way.
CF: In many ways, people who sometimes talked about Bill and Dave's way forgot what Bill and Dave's way was really all about but I don't want to draw too many analogies. If you look at the numbers, John McCain has unified the Republican Party. He has more support from the Republican Party right now than say George Bush did at this point in the campaign in either 2000 or 2004. He won't satisfy everyone on every issue but I think the contrasts between John McCain and the Democrats are crystal clear and that's why the Republican Party is unified but it's also true, to win this election, John McCain has to appeal to Independents and independent minded Democrats and he's in the process of doing that.
DH: Let me get into a couple of specifics that GreatLakesGeek visitors will care about. How do Senator McCain and the RNC feel about Internet Taxation for example?
CF: Well, for example, that is the issue about which I first met John McCain in the year 2000. I was on Capitol Hill talking about Internet taxation and he said then and he says today that we should ban permanently taxation on the Internet. John McCain understands how important innovation is to the economy. Innovation drives job creation. Innovation drives growth. So you don't tax the drivers of innovation and certainly the Internet has been and will continue to be a driver of innovation.
DH: What's his position on H-1B Visas?
CF: He's been very supportive of H1-B Visas and very supportive of the technology community in that regard. As you know every year we use up the number of H1-B visas that are permitted for a year in about a week and here again in 2008. He believes as I do that bringing the best and brightest minds to this country to hopefully live and work and build a family in this country is to our advantage but he also believes that you can't leave people behind and that's why he's so focused as well on education reform and on worker retraining. He's going to Ohio today and people in Ohio that are in their 40's and 50's who have lost their jobs have to be given an opportunity to refresh their skills as well.
DH: The saying is you can't win the presidency without winning Ohio - Is there a specific message for workers and families in Ohio and the Great Lakes states?
CF: Well certainly first that we cannot be a society that leaves workers behind. That we must retrain so that they can revitalize their own jobs and livelihoods and careers. Second he is talking about helping with home foreclosures. Ohio has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country and he proposed several weeks ago his home plan which would allow a struggling homeowner to get a new fixed term 30 year mortgage. He's talking about his summer gas tax holiday. You know, oil and gas hit another record today and Americans need a break and he's talking about energy independence, taxing businesses less so they create more jobs. Today is Earth Day and here in Ohio there are a lot of new businesses that are focused on green technology and that's important because small business creates about 75% of the jobs in this country.
DH: You know when we look at the micro situation here in Cleveland or Ohio, that's one situation but we're really talking about a global economy now with China and India and other nations. How does the Senator and the Republican Party suggest we compete with just the sheer volume of engineers and other skilled workers coming from those countries?
CF: That really goes back to your earlier question. We can't afford as a nation to leave anyone behind in this country. We must use every brain that we have. And equip every brain we have. Whether it's a young girl in high school thinking about her future or whether it's a 45 year old worker who's lost his job and is thinking about where he can go next. It's one of the reasons that education reform is not only important but also reform of unemployment insurance programs so that workers are not just paid when they're unemployed; they're trained while they are unemployed. To compete with China and India on sheer numbers - they are bigger than us - but we can compete with them on the basis of ingenuity, hard work, innovation, education - those are always the things that have kept America the strongest and most prosperous economy in the world and we have to continue to rely on those things.
DH: How important is technology to the Senator? Would he name a Technology Czar? Maybe at the Cabinet level? Perhaps you if you're not the VP or Meg or someone who has the chops to step into that position?
CF: Well, I'm not going to predict his structure for government or his personnel selections, that's up to him, but what I would say is that he has said over and over again for years is we should make the R&D tax credit permanent. He has said that he is against ethanol subsidies for example but he is for government spending on basic R&D. It was, after all, not Al Gore who created the Internet but government funded R&D and it's very important that the government continue to incent and reward basic research and development because it drives technology and innovation. I guess the other thing I would say on that subject is if you want America to remain the leading economy we have to invest in innovative industries so that means we have to support information technology, green technology, biotechnology, space technology. These are all industries that are innovative.
DH: What's your own personal technology these days?
CF: Well it's not all that sexy but now I have to deal with two BlackBerries every day (laughs)
DH: Are you true to HP?
CF: In terms of my computers at home and my printers at home, yes. On the road I carry a Sony Vaio and the two BlackBerries.
DH: How is the campaign doing with the Web 2.0 world? With MySpace and Facebook and raising cash. We've all seen Obama Girl on YouTube. How is the Senator doing with that?
CF: Well I think we are doing better. I think we have a ways to go. Honestly, Obama taught us all how to reach out to a new set of voters and contributors and how to use technology. I think we have come a long way on the McCain campaign since last year but we need to continue to use technology even more aggressively.
DH: I don't suppose you're going to give any hints about possible VP running mates, such as yourself.
CF: Probably not. I have a wealth of ignorance on that topic.
DH: Well, I could go on for hours but I'd like to thank RNC Victory Chairman Carly Fiorina for her time today on the Great Lakes Geek Show - we appreciate it.
CF: Great to be with you, thanks so much Dan.
April 22, 2008 Interview
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Carly Fiorina Comdex 2002 Keynote Speech