Is there any silver lining to the scandal engulfing Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) over its controversial investigation to find press leaks? Only if you're former HP CEO Carleton S. "Carly" Fiorina. This buzz-generating mess is the best PR money can't buy for her upcoming 366-page memoir, Tough Choices. The book dishes dirt on the dysfunctional board that ousted her in February, 2005. Indeed, its first sentence, according to someone who got hold of an early copy, is: "In the end, the board did not have the courage to face me."
Some HP insiders fear the book will fan the flames of scandal. They should worry, says our source. Coming in for criticism in Tough Choices are former HP directors Tom Perkins and George A. "Jay" Keyworth, central characters in the leak controversy, as well as former Compaq Computer chief Michael D. Capellas, says this reader. The source, who is outside HP and admittedly not a Fiorina fan, asked not to be named.
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.'s Portfolio imprint, the book's publisher, issued a terse response: "Portfolio has no comment about gossip concerning what is or isn't in Tough Choices, or any characterization of what Carly Fiorina will say when her book is released." Fiorina's book publicity campaign, like her personality, will be larger than life. She will be featured on 60 Minutes the evening before the official publication date of Oct. 9. She'll later chat it up on Good Morning America and The Charlie Rose Show, then embark on a major city publicity tour. Newsweek will publish an exclusive excerpt, and daily newspapers that agreed not to publish ahead of time will run stories on Oct. 10.
But Fiorina is unlikely to change many minds about her own record at HP. While the book begins with a revealing self-portrait -- right down to the fact that her childhood role model was Cinnamon Carter, the strong female character on the Mission: Impossible TV show -- the chapters dealing with HP left our source unimpressed: "The only mistake she admits to is that she trusted the wrong people."
That's not a common view around HP. Even Fiorina fans who credit her with setting the stage for HP's recovery say she lacked the skills of successor Mark V. Hurd, under whom HP's stock has risen 72%. "I don't think she had the skills to be an operating manager, and she was very reluctant to bring someone in who was," says one high-ranking company insider.
A smaller point made by our critic: "She cries a lot in the book. I started keeping track." Unofficial count: seven crying incidents, and one "came close to crying." But with events breaking her way, Carly may be crying all the way to the bank.
Editor's note: Co-author Peter Burrows is one of the reporters whose private phone records were sought by investigators for Hewlett-Packard. By Peter Burrows, with Steve Hamm in New York