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This is a story about the incredible contrast between two great Americans and one pretty shitty American who is unfortunately linked to them.  

It is about the best that America and the worst of America, the glory of science and the corruption of business, and about the uses and misuses of wealth.  

The success story:

There was once a great American institution called Hewlett Packard.  HP was one of the first quintessential Silicon Valley tech companies.  Originally founded in 1939 by two Stanford graduate students in their garage to manufacture signal processing equipment, the company became a pioneer of computing, leading technological revolutions and helping to make the American economy the center of innovation for the world.

William Hewlett and David Packard were true American innovators.  Engineers themselves, they understood that this country would only be prosperous and successful if it tapped the innovation potential of its people, rather than enabling the forces of greed.

Long before most other people were considering the post resource exploitation based economy of the present, these men understood:

The strength of our nation in the future will not depend on its vast natural resources, nor in the advantage of its geography as in the past, but solely on the strength, capability, and the vision of its people.

- David Packard

Believing as they did in the true substance of innovation over the smoke and mirrors of business, once they became wealthy Hewlett and Packard still had modest offices on the same floor as their engineers, in the laboratory complex that served as their corporate headquarters.

And how did these two American heroes spend the fortunes they amassed and deserved?  By setting up charitable foundations!

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gives over $300 million worth of grants to social and environmental causes annually.  Meanwhile, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation gives almost that amount annually as well, to causes ranging from funding basic science research to education.  Not to mention the generous legacy the two have bequeathed to Stanford, including research buildings and a childrens hospital.  Oh yes, and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.

Hewlett and Packard were true engineers, true thinkers, true innovators, and true patriots.

The failure story:

Oh how a mighty institution has fallen.

Carly Fiorina was the CEO of HP from 1999 to 2005.  Her leadership of the company during that time was nothing short of disastrous.  During her tenure, she fired 33,000 American workers and cut salaries by $130 million, while receiving $90 million in compensation for herself.  

Rather than being an engineer and innovator, Fiorina was a corporate raider with no science background.  All told, during her reign, HP stock dropped by 60%, until she was finally fired by the board.  This is in contrast to the HP's chief competitor, Dell, whose stock rose during the same period.  Of course, for her disastrous service to the company, she was rewarded with a $21 million golden parachute for finally leaving.

In contrast to the substantive style of Hewlett and Packard, Fiorina hung her portrait in the lobby of HP's headquarters (now moved from Hewlett and Packard's Palo Alto research campus), and attempted to get the company to pay to ship her personal yacht.  

BNet sums is up Fiorina's legacy with HP best:

HP went from one of the world's most admired companies to the target of criminal investigations and public criticism.

Now Fiorina is rich like Bill Hewlett and David Packard were.  We have seen what they did with their much more deserved fortunes, so what is Fiorina doing with hers?

She is certainly not setting up a charitable foundation!  Instead, Fiorina is spending her own money (!) on an attempt to unseat Barbara Boxer in the Senate.  Boxer is arguably the most progressive senator we have at the moment.  In contrast, Fiorina's journey from being seemingly uninterested in politics to pandering Republican darling has involved her flip-flopping on abortion and  global warming to end up at the revanchist, neanderthal positions of the contemporary Republican party.  

How many childrens hospitals, research buildings, aquariums, and grants to schools could Carly Fiorina's fortune provide for, if she were to follow the philanthropic path of Hewlett and Packard?  Instead, her money goes toward a selfish narcissistic goal, and if successful, will actually harm children, science, and wildlife by putting a contemporary Republican in the Senate.  

It is a shame that the America that produced and rewarded Bill Hewlett and David Packard is now the America that rewards the likes of Carly Fiorina.  Let's work to keep her swath of damage away from the Senate, and keep progressive champion Barbara Boxer.

Barbara Boxer for Senate

Originally posted to the wonderful world of reality on Thu Jun 10, 2010 at 02:36 PM PDT.

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