By Hardy Green Will Carly have the last word? For an undisclosed advance, Carleton S. Fiorina, the ousted chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), has reached a deal with Penguin Group USA to write her memoirs.
Penguin says the untitled book, due out in fall 2006, will combine recollections of her career with her views on such issues as "what makes a leader, how women can thrive in business, and how technology will continue to reshape our world."
WANING GENRE. Fiorina will write the book herself, unassisted by a ghost writer, according to Penguin. The volume brings back a genre that's been in decline of late: the ex-CEO book. Beyond Jack Welch's Winning, co-written by Suzy Welch, 2005 saw few such accounts.
The Fiorina sale came after a competitive auction involving 8 to 10 publishing houses. "There was enormous interest among the publishers, who see a wide variety of potential readers," says Fiorina's agent, Robert Barnett of the Washington (D.C.) law firm Williams & Connolly.
Portfolio, the Penguin business-book imprint that will publish the title, is also the publisher of a best-selling Enron account, The Smartest Guys in the Room, by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, and an account of Fiorina's tenure at HP, Perfect Enough, by Fast Company writer George Anders.
VERY FIRST ACCOUNT. Despite what is described as a detailed proposal, the book remains very much a work in progress, according to all involved. HP watchers have to wait to see if Fiorina dishes the dirt on her old adversary, board member Walter Hewlett, or just how openly she discusses her ouster at the $80 billion tech conglomerate.
Another possible topic: In May, during a graduation speech at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Fiorina frankly discussed the issue of gender discrimination in the workplace (see BW Online, 5/9/05, "Carly Breaks Her Silence"). As a young AT&T (T) saleswoman in the 1970s, she said, she was labeled a "token bimbo," and while at HP, she was similarly mocked by a rival CEO.
So will the account be juicy? "We're not commenting other than to say that this will be her side of the story," says Penguin spokesman Will Weisser. "She has been very quiet to the press since she left HP -- she didn't go to television or the papers. So this will be her opportunity to give her account of what happened." Weisser also says he expects Fiorina to discuss her plans for the future.
AUDIENCE IN QUESTION. The sales potential of the book is also very much a mystery. "There could be a Martha/Hillary element, but we don't know if Carly has any such popular allegiance," comments an editorial director of a rival publishing house. "We'll have to see how deep the women's audience is for a business book."
Carly may have the last word, but the ultimate question may be: Will anyone be listening?
Green is Books editor for BusinessWeek in New York