“Leadership is always about tough choices”

Carly at Mt VernonCarly Fiorina Talks about the Future of the Republican Party and the Reforms the GOP Should Embrace

WASHINGTON, DC – Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina spoke at a legislative symposium hosted by The Ripon Society at Mount Vernon earlier this month, delivering a Keynote Address in which she not only shared her own story about her background and her rise to the top of the corporate world, but also shared her thoughts on the future of the Republican Party and the reforms the party should embrace in the coming year.

“Whenever someone introduces me the way I was just introduced, I feel the need to correct it,” Fiorina stated. “Because with introductions, they make it sound so smooth. And it wasn’t. It never is. The truth is I graduated with a degree from Stanford in Medieval History and Philosophy. So that made me all dressed up with nowhere to go. I also graduated in 1976 in the middle of a recession. It was a bad time, so I went off to law school. That’s what my Dad wanted me to do. He was a law professor — ultimately a federal judge. I quit law school after a semester because I hated it. The only way that I could earn a living was to go back and continue to do what I had done while I was in college to pay for my room and board. 

“I worked at a hairdresser’s — not doing hair, but doing the appointments, and closing up the cash drawer at night. I was a really good secretary — I could type 87 words a minute. In my day, the big innovation was the IBM Selectric typewriters, so I’m dating myself. I took the first job I was offered, which was to be a secretary — a receptionist actually — for a little nine-person firm. I typed, I filed, I answered the phones. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life — I just needed to pay the rent. The only reason I got headed towards business is because two gentleman in that small business came up to my desk one day and said, ‘You know, we’ve been watching you — maybe you can do more than type and file. Do you want to know something about what we do?’ 

“Now I have been privileged to travel around the world and meet with all kinds of people. And I know that in 2013, this is still the only country on the face of the earth where a young girl can graduate with a degree in Medieval History and Philosophy, drop out of law school, go to work as a secretary, and ultimately have the privilege to run the largest technology company in the world. That is only possible in the United States of America. And I am a Republican — a very conservative Republican by the way — because I believe we are the party of empowerment and reform. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.” 

Fiorina made this statement at The Ripon Society’s 2013 Legislative and Communications Directors Symposium on Leadership at Mount Vernon, which was held at the home of our Nation’s first President on Friday, February 8th. A group of over 200 senior policy and communications aides attended the day-long event, which also featured presentations by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and top members of the House Republican Leadership staff, among other political, legislative and business leaders. In her remarks, the former HP Chief Executive Officer also discussed last year’s election and some of the changes the Republican Party needs to make moving forward. 

“The most important reason why President Obama won the election — in addition to vilifying Romney — is because his campaign staff, through technology and through an on-the-ground effort that extended for five years, established a personal relationship with millions of voters. Tip O’Neil once said that all politics is local. I personally think that all politics is personal. People vote based on what they think is good for them and their families. All politics is personal, and that is why Haley Barbour is right when he says we have to establish a personal relationship with each and every individual and family that we want to vote for us. Of course, we are hugely advantaged now that we have technology to help us do that. But we can no longer kid ourselves. Our get-out-the-vote efforts, frankly, are really pathetic compared to what the Democrats have done in the last five years, and our use of technology is as well.” 

“You know, we’re called conservatives — Republicans, but conservatives. And Democrats are called progressives. If you looked those terms up in the dictionary, you would find that the term conservative is defined as eschewing or avoiding change. And progressive is defined as moving forward. I want to propose to you, that in fact, that it is the Democrats that are standing and protecting a status quo, which no longer works. They stand and protect entitlement programs which no longer work. They stand and protect vast, bloated bureaucracies that are no longer responsive to the needs to their citizens. They stand and protect pensions that are bankrupting cities and states. They stand and protect centralized decision-making in Washington, DC, when we know that in the 21st Century it is all about getting information out to individuals to empower them to make their own choices. We are, and we must be the party of empowerment and reform.” 

“What do I mean by the party of empowerment and reform? We have to stand up and not protect the top one percent. That isn’t our fight. It shouldn’t be our fight. Here’s what our fight should be. Why is it that our small businesses are failing? Because they can’t deal with a 27,000 page tax code. Why is it that fewer small businesses are starting? Because they look at the regulatory morass and they say, ‘I can’t figure it out.’ The truth is that Washington works well for big labor, and it works pretty well for big business. Because big business has lots of lobbyists and lots of money, and frankly, big businesses use the tax code and the regulatory regime for competitive advantage. That’s what big businesses do. It’s not because they’re evil. It’s because it’s their job to get whatever advantage they can. You know who Washington doesn’t work real well for? Small business.” 

“We have to champion tax reform that helps small business. So instead of saying we don’t ever want taxes to go up on the top one percent, I think what our party should say is that we need to reform tax code so that it works for the little guy. And the way it’s going to work for the little guy is vast simplification. 27,000 pages is killing our economy. Lower every rate. Close every loophole. I’m not necessarily recommending that, but it would have the benefit of being clear. Small businesses would applaud. Loopholes benefit big businesses, not small business. We must acknowledge, as Republicans do, that our tax code is totally uncompetitive. Our rates now are the highest in the world. But let’s champion tax reform for the small business owner, because they drive the economy and they give people their first shot. 

“We also have to be the champions of education reform. What empowers someone to make the most of themselves? An education. Yes, I was a Medieval and Philosophy major. But I had a college degree. I knew how to think. We know our education system is failing. It is failing our children. Do you remember when Rahm Emanuel and the teacher’s union were duking it out in Chicago? Do you remember what the head of the teacher’s union said? She said we can’t be held accountable for educating many of these children because they come from poor families and their environment at home is so terrible. Think what a shocking thing that was to say. We know every child wants to learn. It doesn’t matter whether they’re poor. It doesn’t matter whether their home life is dysfunctional. Of course family life matters in terms of a child’s ability to receive education. But the environment a child comes from says nothing about what a teacher is responsible and accountable for. Every child wants to learn. Every child deserves a chance to learn. And in this country, to compete in the 21st century where brainpower is everything, more children must learn.”

“We must also reform immigration in this country — both legal immigration, as well as immigration for those who are here in this country illegally. I know this is a controversial subject. I personally support the Dream Act. I do not believe that it is in our vested self-interest to punish children. I believe it is in our interest to educate them. But I also think that compromise is very delicately put together. And I think that if either side pushes it too far, it will fall apart. Immigration reform should be our issue. Why? Because we know that this country has benefited from hardworking people who come from wherever, because they want to build a better life for themselves and their families.”

Fiorina — who served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005, a period during which the company doubled its revenues to $88 billion and generated 11 patents a day — also stated that the federal government needs to reform the way it identifies and funds new technologies.

“The government today is playing precisely the wrong role in innovation,” she stated. “The government cannot pick winners and losers effectively, so when the government tries to play venture capitalist, they fail miserably. That’s what they’re doing today — they’re playing venture capitalist, saying let’s invest in Solyndra, let’s invest in this one, let’s invest in that one. That will never work. In fact, it’s not just a neutral — it’s a negative for our economy. What the government could be doing is two things. One, the government could be, and should be in my opinion, investing in what I would call ‘platform innovation.’

“The Internet has changed the world. You know where the Internet came from? DARPANET. The Internet started as a government-funded research initiative. The moonshot spawned tremendous innovation in the private sector. Government can play a role, but it has to play the right role. And we should champion the right role to enhance our ability to innovate. We can’t simply stand up and say ‘Solyndra is a bad thing.’ We need to say what we’re for. You know, what we’re for? We’re for effective innovation — which means the government has a role and the private sector has a role, and let’s keep them straight.

“And one more thing — this is the 21st century. Politics has been revolutionized by technology. Business has been revolutionized by technology. What about government? I believe that in the Republican majority’s capacity leading government oversight and accountability, we should be demanding that these vast government bureaucracies actually apply the technology of business to the government. The only way I know that you can increase the level of service you provide and spend less money at it is to apply technology in a transformational way. We should be the champions of that.

“I wrote a book called ‘Tough Choices.’ Leadership is always about tough choices. Leadership is always a balance between what’s desirable and what’s possible. Leadership is always a balance between optimism and realism. If you want to change things, you better be really realistic about the hurdles you face — the constraints, the problems. But you also have to be optimistic. Optimism is the belief that things could be better. And optimism is also a fundamentally Republican value. Why? Because we have faith in the individual. Because we know that every single person has potential.

“We know that this is the only place on earth where it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what your last name is. All that matters is that you have potential and that you want to fulfill your potential. We should be the party that stands up and says we will empower you. We will empower you to live the life you choose.”

To view Fiorina’s complete remarks to the Symposium, please click on the link below:

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.