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When Carly Fiorina was hired as Hewlett-Packard's CEO, she was the first woman to take control of a Fortune 100 company.
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Carleton S. Fiorina was born in Austin, Texas on September 6, 1954. After dropping out of law school, she became an AT&T sales rep. She moved up the company ladder and became the first female officer in the Network Systems division.
When Carly Fiorina told her father, a law professor, that she'd decided to drop out of law school after her first year at UCLA, he shook his head and said he didn't think she'd amount to much. Two decades later, she's been named the most powerful woman in American business by Fortune magazine and in 1999 was named president/CEO of one of the world's most important technology companies, Hewlett-Packard.
Fiorina, her artist mother, and her two siblings moved frequently thanks to her father's wide-ranging career. She attended five different high schools, including one in Ghana. In college, she studied medieval history and philosophy, and after trying law school, she bounced from job to job, working as a receptionist, teaching English in Italy, and finally signing on as a sales rep at AT&T at age 25.
Interested in the developing field of network communications, she surprised her co-workers by joining the male-dominated Network Systems division. At age 35, she became the division's first female officer, and five years later was named head of North American sales. She combined an appreciation of new technologies with powerful sales instincts, which won the attention of top brass at AT&T. In 1996, the company decided to spin off its Western Electric and Bell Labs divisions into a new company: Fiorina was tagged to spearhead the effort. Under her guidance, the spin-off, dubbed Lucent, became one ofthe most successful IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) in U.S history, raising $3 billion.
Fiorina, whose first marriage ended in divorce, remarried in 1983 to an AT&T executive who put his own career on the slow track in order to support hers. He predicted early on that she would run a big company someday, and he pledged to help her. Retired in 1998, he devotes his time to yachting, caring for their dogs, and accompanying Fiorina on business trips.
By 1998, when Fortune dubbed her the most powerful woman in business, Fiorina was president of Lucent's Global Service Provider division, the company's core business unit. Selling products that made network communication possible, including networking systems and software for phones, Fiorina rode the rising tide of demand for network technology from American businesses. Under her watch, the company's market share increased in every region for every product.
In the summer of 1999, Hewlett-Packard took note of Fiorina's exceptional ability to manage growth in the quickly changing technology field and tagged her to replace retiring president and CEO Lewis Platt. Fiorina holds the notable distinction of being the first woman to take the lead at a Fortune 100 company.
Recently, growing competition from Sun Microsystems and IBM has forced Hewlett-Packard to shift its focus from hardware products to consumer products and services.
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