What We Can Learn From Carly Fiorina's New Book

by Amrita Khalid

The lone female Republican presidential contender in the 2016 elections, Carly Fiorina, released a new book on Monday entitled Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey. The tome joins Tough Choices, Fiorina’s 2006 account of her rise and fall as the head of Hewlett-Packard. Both works chronicle the former HP executive’s public ousting from the company. In Rising To The Challenge, Fiorina fills us in on what she alleges are the dysfunctional company politics that led up and followed her dismissal at HP; it paints her public ousting by HP's board of directors a more sympathetic light. Fiorina also recounts life after the publication of Tough Choices.

Unlike its predecessor, which was largely intended to be a book on business and leadership, Rising To The Challenge seems to have been carefully timed to coincide with Fiorina's announcement on Good Morning America that she'll be running for the presidency in 2016. In the book, Fiorina rails on politicians who “fail to emphasize jobs and work” and mentions the people she meets on the campaign trail, the unemployed men in Mendota, California, and the South Carolina woman who dreams of opening her own barbershop. Both books give us an in-depth look at a complicated candidate who has persevered despite numerous career setbacks and personal losses. Here are some of the biggest takeaways.

She thought being named Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business was a bad idea


Fiorina’s mother died in 1998, the same year that Fortune tapped her to be the Most Powerful Women in Business. Fiorina writes in Tough Choices that both events ended up making her lonelier. Although Fiorina was excited about the opportunity to appear in Fortune, she admits that she was philosophically against the idea of ranking women that worked in business, likening such a list to women’s only sports like tennis or soccer or softball. "Women have to compete against one another because they can’t compete with men. Beyond that, there’s no Fifty Most Powerful Men in Business List," she opines in Tough Choices.

Fiorina admits that she never saw herself as a woman in business, and that her secret to her success was in fact refusing to let men pigeonhole her. Of working with men, Fiorina wrote that she “challenged them when necessary, spoke in language they could understand, and demonstrated my value through actions rather than words.” Fortune’s subsequent release of its 1998 Most Powerful Women in Business issue had Carly Fiorina on the cover and made the previously unknown Lucent Technologies executive a celebrity. Fiorina had even beat out Oprah Winfrey. Fiorina wrote in Tough Choices that the resulting fame had a negative effect on the way others perceived her.

Many could no longer see me at all. They could only see "Carly Fiorina," the Most Powerful Women in Business.

The loss of her stepdaughter to alcoholism and bulimia changed her life

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In 2009, Fiorina suffered the loss of her stepdaughter, Lori, who suffered from a combination of drug abuse, alcoholism, and bulimia. Fiorina writes that even though she and her husband, Frank, thought Lori had drank too much in college, they did were not aware of the full details of Lori’s addiction. Fiorina writes in Rising to the Challenge:

As anyone who has loved someone with an addiction knows, you can force someone into rehab, but you can't make her well. Only the addict can do that. Lori couldn't — or wouldn't — take that first step of admitting she was powerless over her addiction. And ultimately her body just gave out.

Rising details that after graduating college, Lori got married and moved to Richmond, Virginia, at which point she began abusing prescription drugs. Fiorina came out against criminalizing drug addiction in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

She blames Sen. Barbara Boxer for contributing to the state’s drought

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In Rising To The Challenge, Fiorina reflects on her failed 2010 bid to unseat incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer and on the state’s current drought crisis. Fiorina criticized Boxer, who in 2010 served as chair of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee and voted against an amendment that would have allowed farmers to use water in California’s Central Valley that had been restricted to protect the native fish. Boxer has sided with environmentalists and continued to block legislation to loosen restrictions on the industrial use of Central Valley’s water, which has been met with resentment by farmers and other Central Valley producers. Fiorina cites this as evidence of Boxer not having the interest of Californians and the ongoing water crisis in mind.

As she recounts in Rising to the Challenge:

I made the promise that if I made the Senate, the first thing I would do is going back to Senator Dianne Feinstein and say, "Let’s turn the water back on."

Fiorina has come out hard in the media against the environmental protections in California’s Central Valley, telling Blaze Radio that it was California’s “man-made drought.” She argued that such regulations, meant to protect endangered fish and wildlife, were barring the state from building a single new reservoir or water conveyance system during a period in which its population had doubled.

She hates the term “novice”

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Fiorina takes issue at being described as a political “novice” by the Washington press. While she is straight-forward about her lack of political experience, Fiorina thinks that as far as running for office is concerned, being new to Washington shouldn’t be seen as negative or even noteworthy. Fiorina’s rationale for thinking she could unseat Boxer, who had been in Congress since 1982, was that Boxer’s wealth of Washington experience would end in being her downfall and that the public would crave something new.

Fiorina writes in Rising:

From the time of our founding and for 150 years, we regarded the citizen legislator — the person who brings the perspective and experience of ordinary life to Washington, D.C. — as a good thing. The professional politician is a modern invention and not an improvement. Barbara Boxer had known nothing but Washington for almost thirty years. Why, I wondered, was being a novice not a point in my favor?

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