From the board room to the war room

FROM THE BOARD ROOM TO THE WAR ROOM…. There’s no shortage of candidates this year who’ve never sought or held elected office, but who are running for high office based on their business experience. Karen Tumulty reports today on the larger phenomenon, and notes that it often goes poorly.

As Meg Whitman, California’s new Republican gubernatorial nominee, puts it, she and GOP Senate pick Carly Fiorina are the “worst nightmare” of career politicians: “two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.”

Is she right? There is a long history of executives attempting to make the leap into public office…. The trouble is, by and large, CEOs have turned out to be pretty mediocre politicians.

There are, of course, exceptions, and Tumulty takes note of NYC’s Michael Bloomberg (I) and Virginia’s Mark Warner (D). But there are many more CEOs who’ve either lost despite spending enormous sums, or won and failed in office.

But most of the analysis covers successful business leaders who try to make the transition to public office. What I find fascinating is when awful business leaders try to parlay private-sector failure into political success.

Take Carly Fiorina, for example. Fiorina is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in California this year, and her most notable accomplishment is having served as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. The key detail to remember, however, is that Fiorina was laughably bad at her job.

During a June 9, 2010 appearance on Fox News’ On the Record, Carly Fiorina attempted to deflect criticism of her tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard, claiming, “I’m really proud of my record, and the good thing about business is the facts are clear.” The facts are clear, but they’re nothing Fiorina should be proud of. She fired at least 18,000 people, sent jobs overseas, instigated a disastrous merger with Compaq, and was eventually fired.

I’m hard pressed to imagine what she’s even thinking running for the Senate. It doesn’t occur to most folks to think, “Well, I just got fired for running my company poorly. Next step: U.S. Senate!”