Big Ego, Big Ears, Big Zip, Big Goof

Why Fiorina's golden parachute needed strings, a prince wrecked Valentine's, hockey's only hope, and Christo's curtains

By Ciro Scotti

The plummet of Carleton Fiorina from her tottering perch atop Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ) is being hailed in some quarters as a heartening example of a board of directors stepping in and acting decisively.

But this is the same board that signed on to Fiorina's ruinous strategy, that plans to stick with her loser game plan, and that is handing HP's imperious ex-ruler a $21 million going-away present. Just their way of saying thanks for barging into a company with a venerable history of innovation, firing thousands of workers, and crushing what was a sleepy but by all accounts wonderfully decent corporate culture. Oh, and let's not forget driving down the stock price by some 32%.

If the lyrics written by another Carly were to be applied to Carly the so-called rock-star CEO, they might go something like this: "You're so vain, you probably think this company's about you, don't you, don't you.... You're so-o vain." That was especially true during HP's bruising in-house battle over whether to buy Compaq Computer. At some point it stopped being about the wisdom of acquiring a PC maker and became all about Carly's need to conquer.

But in the rarefied world of big-time CEOs, there is little downside to the sort of damage Fiorina leaves behind. With the pockets of their tailored suits so stuffed with cash that they can barely squeeze into the departing limos, top-level captains have little to fear if their ill-advised strategies run the corporate ship onto unforgiving shoals.

Perhaps CEOs would be less rash and directors less torpid in the face of onrushing fiascoes, if the bulk of their compensation were held in a trust to be disbursed when they step down -- that is, if the company ends up in better shape than when they came aboard. If not, the pot of loot stays put -- and they call their own cabs.

Prince Charles Spaniel

By jeopardizing his right to the throne as he pressed for permission to wed a woman who doesn't exactly look like Raquel Welch, Prince Charles has made every other man in the world seem like an unromantic Neanderthal.

But that wasn't all he accomplished by getting down on his 56-year-old knee to ask Camilla Parker Bowles to marry him. No, no, no. In fact, he managed to ruin a list of perfectly reasonable reasons not to get hitched that have been crafted with care over the centuries. Let us count some the excuses Charles has effectively demolished with his Windsor treachery:

1. I'd love to, but it's really too soon after my wife's death.

2. I'm not sure the kids are ready for a new mom.

3. My mother would never forgive me for marrying a divorced woman.

4. My mother would never forgive me for marrying my mistress.

5. I'm bisexual, actually.

And if he had to be a one-man bachelorhood wrecking crew, you'd think he would have had the decency to wait until after Valentine's Day.

Hockey Pucks

Prospects for even a truncated NHL season are melting fast. After a going-nowhere meeting on Feb. 10, Hockey Commissioner Gary Bettman stomped out of Toronto and headed back to New York, where news reports say he could deliver the coup de grace to NHL 2004-05 on Wednesday.

Doesn't everyone think that it's time for binding -- and face-saving -- arbitration? Former Securities & Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt would be an appropriate mediator, having extensively studied league finances at the behest of the NHL last year. But precisely because his report on the state of the game was paid for by the NHL, Levitt would likely be unacceptable to the NHL Players Assn.

Or maybe Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow should just shoot up some steroids, lace up their skates, and duke it out at center ice in Madison Square Garden.

Editor's note: On Wed. Feb. 16, Bettman and the NHL canceled the 2004-05 season.

Orange Shower Curtains

A flock of cultural sheep ba-ba-ed over to New York's Central Park last weekend to view the latest installation of Cristo and Jean-Claude -- 7,000-odd flapping saffron curtains first unfurled, appropriately, near a field called Sheep Meadow. On Monday, everyman art critic Howard Stern said it best when he declared that he felt he -- and by extension, the city -- was being "goofed on." The color of the hanging fabric and plastic supports was reminiscent of International Orange -- the global signal of distress.

Scotti is a senior editor for BusinessWeek. Follow his columns, only on BW Online

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