Meg Whitman explains her endorsement of Chris Christie for president rather than her predecessor at Hewlett-Packard
On the day Hewlett-Packard split into two companies, the tech giant’s chief executive, Meg Whitman, said she backed “someone who had some experience in politics” for president rather than Carly Fiorina, a former HP CEO whose campaign for the White House is based on her business experience.
Fiorina, the first woman to run a Fortune 50 company and the only woman in the Republican field, was at HP from 1999 to 2005, when she left with a $21m payout. During her tenure, sales grew from $42bn to $87bn but net earnings fell from $3.1bn to $2.4bn and stock fell by 50%. In 2010, she fought and lost a US Senate election in California – the same year Whitman lost in her bid to become governor of the state.
Hewlett-Packard formally split on Sunday, in a move announced a year ago. One new company will focus on computers and printers and the other will deal with hardware and service operations. Around 30,000 jobs are expected to go – the same number as went under Fiorina – on top of 55,000 already gone under Whitman. She will take charge of the hardware and service company, HP Enterprise.
In a conversation with significance for a Republican party torn asunder by “outsider” candidates, Whitman was asked by CNN’s Poppy Harlow why she was not backing Fiorina and instead endorsed New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Whitman said: “Because while I think business strengths are important, I also think having worked in government is an important part of the criteria.”
Fiorina has run on her corporate experience as a strength, despite doubts among many in the tech sector and corporate world that her time at HP was a success.
“I think business experience is actually nice to have,” Whitman said. “You know, if you could find someone who had business experience plus the political experience, that’s a great option.”
But she repeated: “I just think, you know, literally having some experience in politics for the highest office in the land is probably an important criteria.”
Fiorina performed strongly in the first “undercard” debate in August and a follow-up on the main stage in debate two propelled her to the upper reaches of the polls – behind real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, two more candidates with no experience in elected office. Since then, Fiorina has returned to the sizable Republican pack, if at the top of it.
On Sunday, she admitted in an interview on ABC that her statement in the third debate that “92% of the jobs lost during [President] Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women” was wrong.
It was pointed out after the debate, which took place in Colorado on Wednesday night, that 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney had made the claim, and had been proved wrong at the time.
“I misspoke on that particular fact,” Fiorina said on Sunday.
Whitman said, in the interview to be broadcast later in the day: “I think it’s very difficult for your first role in politics to be president of the United States.
“And so I think having experience in either the Senate or as the governor of a state … is really important. It’s just hard to be dropped down into Washington DC never having been in politics before. So I wanted to have someone who had some experience in politics.”
For Whitman, that person is Christie, once a party favourite, now mired in single-digit polling after choosing not to run in 2012, physically embracing President Obama after hurricane Sandy and enduring the Bridgegate scandal over alleged acts, by aides, of political payback.
“I decided that it made sense for me to get in early,” Whitman said, “to support someone I have lots of confidence in, who I thought could lead this country … I believe his record of being able to work across the aisles and get things done in New Jersey was going to be an important criteria for the next president.
“And I know him very well, I thought very highly of him, and I said, I can make a small difference in his campaign and help him achieve the nomination, then it makes sense to get in early as opposed to sit on the sidelines.”
Asked if she would support Trump as an eventual nominee – a candidate whose remarks about women, including Fiorina, have caused controversy on the campaign trail – Whitman said: “I’ll have to wait and see how this works out.
“I have a day job, called splitting HP into two companies, it’s been a little busy out there … So let’s see … where we end up at the end of the nominating process.”