Holman Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal, CEO Fiorina Fought the Good Fight:
People get the wrong idea about CEOs, mostly from the media. CEOs are supposed to be magical persons who transform opportunities invisible to the rest of us into unlimited wealth. If only GM, some pundits moaned at the time of GM’s bankruptcy, had a Steve Jobs who could combine steel, plastic and glass in a way that would perform all the functions of an automobile yet liberate its maker from the tyranny of costs and intense price competition with other manufacturers of automobiles.
This kind of thinking is nuts. Companies that were important in the PC age and earlier aren’t important now: Gateway, Data General, DEC. You could add Microsoft, Intel andIBM, which like HP are still alive but have been moved off center-stage by the Internet and mobile revolutions.
Big tech companies become big by birthing technology revolutions, but the next revolution usually comes from somewhere else. Google didn’t invent Facebook, Facebook didn’t invent Spotify, etc. Don’t make an expectation out of Steve Jobs’s improbable second act. His story only proves that, in our infinitely rich world, you can find one example of almost anything that isn’t proscribed by the laws of physics.
What’s reasonable to expect is something else: CEOs who make conscientious choices and diligently execute them, knowing that superlative results will happen only if a lot of things beyond their control fall into place too. Look at HP’s stock chart under Ms. Fiorina, who had the misfortune to arrive eight months before the tech bubble burst: It’s indistinguishable from Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, Cisco, etc. By the idiotic standard her critics apply, John Chambers is the worst CEO in history, since in 15 years he never made back the wealth Cisco lost in the crash.
In the end, the HP-Compaq deal did not turn tin into gold. Most mergers don’t. HP survives and remains a big player, but its stock performance has made no one rich, and the company’s strategic wanderings, board chaos and legal travails have hardly been less under the two tech superstars, Mark Hurd and Meg Whitman, who’ve run the place after Ms. Fiorina was booted out in 2005.