Unlike Cisco, EMC, or Oracle, Hewlett-Packard has had many CEOs thanks to a rocky period where it was hiring and dismissing them in fairly rapid succession.
One of them, Carly Fiorina, is running for president and is showcasing her time as CEO of HP as an example of why she’s a qualified leader. (Her record at HP is controversial, though, and ended when the board showed her the door.)
In a recent interview with the Skimm, Fiorina talked briefly about her career including this little nugget about how she got her start:
“I began my career as a secretary at a small real estate firm after dropping out of law school,” she said.
She eventually got a job at AT&T as a management trainee, rose to become a vice president there, and oversaw the spin-off of Lucent from AT&T, which is what led HP to hire her as CEO.
She was HP’s first female CEO, but, obviously, not its last.
Meg Whitman is currently running the company.
History will judge if her tenure at HP is spectacular or controversial, as she’s currently splitting HP into two new, huge Fortune 50 companies, and will stay at the helm of one, while becoming chairman of the other.
Whitman’s career as major tech company CEO also came from an unusual route. She cut her teeth in the world of consumer products, working first for Procter & Gamble, then Disney and at Hasbro, leading Hasbro’s Playskool division, where she was responsible, among other things, for one the company’s oldest and most precious toys: Mr. Potato Head.
Whitman was eventually recruited by eBay to become its CEO, and had to be mightily convinced to leave Mr. Potato Head to take the job.
Mark Hurd, another former HP CEO (and current Oracle CEO, a job he shares with Safra Catz), also started his career in a most un-tech-CEO-like way.
He was a tennis pro.
After a short time on the pro circuit, he decided he wasn’t good enough to become a break-out star, so he took a job at NCR as an entry-level salesperson.
He worked his way up to NCR’s CEO, before HP recruited him. His stint at HP ended badly, too, with his resignation, though he is doing well again at Oracle.
A secretary-turned-CEO running for president; a toymaker-turned-CEO on her way to running two Fortune 50 companies; a tennis pro who has also run two Fortune 50 companies … sometimes the most dramatic careers come from the most surprising beginnings.