Looks Can Be Deceiving
Sometimes this smell can surprise you. Years ago, Fortune magazine asked me to do a story about Silicon Graphics, then one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. In those days, SGI could do no wrong. It owned the graphic workstation market. It was working with the likes of Steven Spielberg. And its chairman, my old HP boss Ed McCracken, was being talked up for cabinet posts and ambassadorships. I fully expected to write the latest laud on the Valley's hottest young company.
But the instant I stepped on the SGI campus I knew something was wrong. The place just didn't FEEL right. Sure it was shiny and new and filled with shiny and bright employees. The products were great, and the financials were terrific. And yet, the company didn't pass the smell test. It was the little things: the chief executive officer that forgot the meeting with me (who forgets Fortune?), forcing the chairman to vamp for an hour; the much-awaited new product that arrived missing some key features; the sudden loss of some key employees.
I found myself with a serious case of cognitive dissonance. On paper, Silicon Graphics looked great, but in my gut it was a company in desperate straits. I went with my gut, and to Fortune's credit, the magazine backed me. CGI raised holy hell over the article when it appeared -- but subsequent events proved me right.
The same thing happened at Hewlett-Packard. In some very controversial editorials in The Wall Street Journal, I predicted that Carly Fiorina's stewardship of HP would be an unmitigated disaster, and would destroy the world's greatest company. Obviously, Fortune, Forbes and most of the rest of the business press didn't agree -- and all I managed to do was make myself persona non-gratis at HP. But, as this week's news shows, my instincts were correct. [As an aside: If the first words out of the mouth of Carly's replacement aren't "The HP Way is back", the board should fire him, too.]
As you can see he has a god track record on predicting these things.
You can read the full piece here.