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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sociopath alert: Carly Fiorina

Yesterday "Rifleman" sent a link to Lion of the Blogosphere's post Todd Bartlem on Carly Fiorina. Is she a sociopath

Lion linked to this Daily Mail article, in which Fiorina's ex-husband Todd Bartlem is interviewed.

Before I quote Bartlem, a caveat. Ex-spouses are overly prone to accusing their exes of being sociopaths. The majority of women who've written comments on this blog about their exes have said that those exes are sociopaths. In many cases, that's undoubtedly true. But in some cases, it's just someone wanting to vent about her somewhat selfish ex.

At the same time, it's also true that you're more likely to hear an ugly truth from an ex-spouse, just as you are from the proverbial disgruntled ex-employee.

Some of the excerpts from the Daily Mail article, in italics, with my comments in between:

[Bartlem said], 'She's a very calculating person and her risks paid off but whenever I read descriptions about her life there'd always be this bit that she rose from a secretary at a real estate company to the head of AT&T…

'I mean she had a part-time position when she quit law school and she had to have money to pay the rent, so she worked as a secretary to a real estate firm in Palo Alto, but it was incidental.'

Self-mythologizing about one's humble roots and meritocratic rise is typical sociopathic behavior.

From Bartlem's perspective the marriage began to founder as Carly became more and more fixated with power, the corporate world - and Frank Fiorina [a senior executive at AT&T].

He said of her career: 'That became her whole life because of the power thing that went with it, and, at the end of the day, everything got judged according to how useful it was towards allowing her to get ahead.

'I assume Frank was useful.' 

Sleeping one's way to the top is a time-tested sociopathic technique.

"She is pathologically narcissistic and all she cares about is her,’ he said. "Nothing holds together with her.

"I got kind of suspicious of her towards the end of the marriage because she had no old friends. She had nobody that she knew in the past, and I thought, “God that’s kind of weird.”‘

Today Bartlem believes the reason lies in Carly’s ‘modus operandi’ of ‘dropping people’ as soon as they have fulfilled their useful purpose in her life. Certainly it’s what he believes happened to him. ‘I had no utility and that’s what the judgment was,’ he said. ‘If you aren’t useful to her, your time is over….I was heartbroken. It was brutal.’

A complete absence of old friends is another sociopathic hallmark. It means either that she dropped people as soon as they are no longer useful, or that others eventually wised up to her. Either way, a red flag. 

Bartlem claims that when Carly walked out on him she did so without leaving so much as a forwarding address or phone number. A year after the divorce, he claims, she pulled up in the driveway of their former home and calmly said, ‘I will never see you again.’

He said: 'She only had one interest and that was to get ahead. When we were together she didn't have a political bone in her body. 

Coming to politics late is not unique, and ambition is hardly a disqualifer for Presidential candidates; but the fact that Fiorina seems to be doing this purely out of ambition makes her passionately delivered speeches about fetuses seem less than heartfelt. False emotionality is another sociopathic marker.

'The only thing she cared about was herself. I assume that's all she's ever cared about since then. Why else would you subject yourself to the ridicule of trying to run for president?'

In 2005 Fiorina was fired by the board of Hewlett Packard. Her tenure had seen a controversial merger with PC maker Compaq and a company restructuring that resulted in 30,000 people losing their jobs - while she tripled her own salary and bought a $1million yacht and five corporate jets.

She was worth a reported $120 million at the time of her departure.

Being fired as CEO is hardly an indictment of someone's character. Companies prosper and go bust, sometimes for reasons beyond a CEO's control, and Fiorina did have the misfortune to oversee HP during the dot com bust. Ironically, as explained two posts ago, rising through the ranks to become CEO is actually a more likely hint to her character.

And, in my experience, sociopathic CEO's tend to be more acquisitive of other companies: it means they have a bigger empire to rule over.

Sociopaths also tend to like the trappings of wealth, like corporate jets and a yacht, so those purchases are yellow flags.

And sociopaths always seem to have a way of making out very well for themselves, even while the company they're shepherding is cratering.

Plenty of people get plastic surgery these days; but a sociopath is still more likely to get it (see picture above). Yellow flag.

A lot of pundits declared Fiorina the winner of the first "B" debate. She was also given high marks for her performance in the "A" debate four days ago. A big part of the reason for this is that she was so poised and controlled. She didn't appear to be affected by nerves at all: this is another hallmark.

Verdict: although some of Bartlem's statements about Fiorina are subjective, they do mesh perfectly with the known facts about her. Fiorina is a sociopath. 


Anonymous said...

I read the Daily Mail article and suspected that Carly Fiorina could be disordered. She's a person that I wouldn't vote for.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
Someone who just read this post asked if I'd vote for her over Bernie Sanders or Hillary. I'd probably vote for Fiorina over Hillary, because Hillary is almost as much of a hawk and she's completely dishonest, which makes her no better than Fiorina. But I'd probably vote for Sanders over Fiorina. He seems to be fairly honorable, at least by political standards, is not a hawk, and is anti-immigration. I'd probably even vote for him over some of the other Republican candidates like Rubio or Cruz.

Anonymous said...

I won't vote for any Democrats. Trump and Carson are candidates that I would consider voting for. I'm still deciding who to vote for. I agree about Sanders but since he's a Democrat, he's a person that I refuse to vote for.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
Unfortunately, Trump may not get the nod, and the choice may be between the lesser of two evils. Actually, I suppose it's usually that. Anyway, please don't tell anyone I'd consider voting for Sanders.

Anonymous said...

My lips are sealed.

- Susan

Former Darfur said...

Sociopath or not, Fiorina was a terrible CEO at HP.

Under her, HP finalized the split of its traditional core business and its spinoff as Agilent, and acquired Compaq, which was a foolish move. Compaq brought nothing to HP it did not already have, except the redundant former DEC properties which then mostly consisted of another RISC processor architecture and another midrange/minicomputer operating system that, while arguably superior to HP's extant offerings, were already considered "legacy products". In other words, HP left behind everything that made it a unique market entity and took on another brand of commodity business and high-volume, low margin consumer/SBHB products dependent on others for major parts of its hardware and software supply chains and which bring little unique value to the table.

HP bet its high performance server and workstation business on the failed Intel Itanium (more commonly called 'Itanic') architecture and while it maintained its proprietary flavor of Unix, HP-UX, that has largely been replaced by Linux and open source BSD implementations. It killed off its lower volume but still successful MPE/HP3000 platform, driving most users (such as the vast majority of electronics manufacturers in the US, who used a product called MANMAN to manage their parts inventories, bills of material and so forth) away from HP in anger permanently. And it pretty well finished off VMS from consideration to any new customers, even though it was still a very solid choice from a technical perspective for certain applications.

There is little doubt that Fiorina was a poor choice from any perspective except that it was decided a female CEO would be fashionable. And Fiorina was fashionable. But she did not fundamentally understand the tech sector, as very few men and almost no women do.

If Itanic hadn't tanked technically, HP would still have the long term problem that it didn't own it, as it had the PA-RISC architecture, and it would have been commoditized. But its server business would have done much better, for several years, and if HP had maintained its own legacy environments and aggressively marketed VMS it could have taken much of the higher end Windows Server business. It also had some unique consumer products that could have been made into brand champions. HP could have done well enough that Fiorina could have left as the conquering heroine, instead of a failure.

Fiorina is not a stupid person, nor is she lazy, and if she doesn't get a VP slot she will be offered some Cabinet position. She will probably do adequately at that. I would rather see her simply retire or get some sinecure she can't do too much damage from, but I think that's the best we are going to do as things are.

John Craig said...

Former Darfur --
I can't even begin to pretend I know a fraction as much about tech as you do, and it definitely sounds as if you do, so I'll defer to you here.

Yes, a lot of people seem to think that she is a logical VP candidate (I'm sure for the same reason you say she got that HP slot). A heartbeat away….

mark said...

One point that has been brought up is why didn't Fiorina take another CEO or big wheel job? Really, I could think a small tech company might love to have Carly on board to land a big contract with some tech giant. If you hired her and gave her a fancy title and she helped land even one big contract, that would be enough to justify a nice salary. If she knew some tech talent and could lure them to that small company, again that would justify her existence. I suspect her reputation or perhaps her demands kept her from teaming up with a small company. Her canned answers don't impress me and I much prefer that Hillary at least tries to project warmth. Yes, I do expect female candidates to smile and occasionally laugh just like I would hope male candidates have a sense of humor and some charisma but I guess I am sexist. I do hope that the next time she starts yapping about not talking to Putin, Trump says Putin should only be so lucky.

John Craig said...

Mark --
I have to think Fiorina was radioactive among tech companies after her tenure at HP.

Ha, that would be a great line for Trump.

don bass said...

Among tech people, she's indeed radioactive. Everyone at HP despised her, especially the females.

Rifleman said...

On empathy: psychopaths, sociopaths and aspies

Great article here by management prof on Carly:

Why I Still Think Fiorina Was a Terrible CEO

And I have to point out the obvious: If the board was wrong, the employees wrong, and the shareholders wrong—as Fiorina maintains—why in 10 years has she never been offered another public company to run?

Now, Fiorina wants to run the country. I am a firm believer in second chances. Just because Fiorina failed at an early career does not preclude her from becoming a good leader later. But I do know, having written a book on how great leaders rebound after career disasters, that to overcome failure is to admit to it and learn from it. During the debate, instead of addressing the facts and taking on my professional observations, Fiorina decided to shoot the messenger. What she failed to see is that this behavior—sidestepping accountability by resorting to demagoguery and deflection—is exactly why she failed as a leader the last time.

Fiorina is clever and articulate, but during events like last week’s debate, it’s clear that she seems to have learned very little from her reign as a tech chief. On the campaign trail as in business, she still displays four key leadership flaws:

1. She refuses to learn from failure.

2. She plays fast and loose with highly misleading metrics

3. She makes irresponsible decisions.

4. She is intolerant of dissent and resorts to personal attacks.

John Craig said...

Rifleman --
Thank you for that, Sonnenfeld is exactly on target, and the numbered readership flaws you quote above are all actually sociopathic traits. Ironically, while sociopaths are preternaturally good at scaling the corporate ladder, they usually make horrible CEO's, for the four reasons listed above. In fact, those four behaviors are characteristic of all sociopaths, not just sociopathic CEO's.

Quartermain said...

Here is a better picture of Carly Fiorina to post:

John Craig said...

Allan --
Thanks, that one does show her looking strident, but I wanted one that showed her overly taut, plastic surgery-enhanced face for purposes of this post.

Tim said...

I was still working in Tech when she went to HP. Most of the techies I worked with identified here as a marketeer (salesperson) who didn't really know all that much about tech or how to run a tech company. The general impression was that she was all about herself and advancing her at any cost and probably going to be a disaster at HP. That all proved to be accurate. She actually did better than I or most people thought she would, which was still horrible.

The real indicator that she is a sociopath is that no matter what the question is, she thinks she's the answer, if its going to get her more power. She learned she likes power at the expense of all else. She learned that her core competency is getting people to hire her, not on what she does after she's hired. She learned from observing Bush that politics is all about getting hired, not about doing anything with competence. And if she succeeds she'll have dominion over all the twerps who mocked her in the business and tech world.

Sociopaths don't have any guilt, shame, or embarrassment. If most of us had her track record, we'd take the $120 million she got at HP and find low profile things to do. For her, failure at HP is just something she has to explain away. She has no qualification for high office. Business is poor pedigree politics, but she was a failure at that. Politics is a different skill than running a business. She will make GW Bush look good. I suspect he'll be backing her for that reason.

John Craig said...

Tim --
"She learned that her core competency is getting people to hire her, not on what she does after she's hired." That's a great observation, and tends to be true of most sociopaths. Only she didn't learn this from watching Bush, it something that comes instinctively when you're a sociopath.

You seem to harbor a particular dislike for Bush. While I'm not Bush fan, I'd say Obama is a better example of being far better at being hired than at doing his job. His entire campaign was run on false pretenses (he's good at reaching across the aisle, he's run the most transparent administration in history, etc.), whereas with Bush, inarticulate as he was, what you saw was pretty much what you got.

john said...

wow nice article...