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The Inside Story Of Carly's Ouster

By the end of 2004, the pressure in Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HPQ ) corner office was almost unbearable. With Chief Executive Carleton S. Fiorina's efforts to fix the $80 billion computing colossus stalled and tensions building with the board, one of high tech's most powerful executives began mulling an exit plan, BusinessWeek has learned.

Around the holidays, Fiorina held separate meetings with at least four high-profile chief executives to glean advice on making a "graceful exit" from HP, according to industry sources. These industry luminaries, approached by Fiorina at yearend business conferences, included Cisco (CSCO ) Chief Executive John T. Chambers and Intel President Paul S. Otellini. During the conversations, Fiorina told the CEOs she was feeling some pressure from HP's board and inquired about face-saving ways to leave the company should she decide it was in the best interest of shareholders, according to the sources. Chambers and Otellini didn't return requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Fiorina says it is "complete and utter fiction" that she talked to Chambers and Otellini about leaving and adds that Fiorina never contemplated leaving HP.