H-P's CEO Overcomes Outsider Image

Even before her first day on the job, Carly Fiorina has handled the challenges of her management role with finesse and candor, insiders say.
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- For Carly Fiorina, the first crisis didn't take long to surface.

Right after she joined

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

as CEO, Fiorina discovered that several execs had one eye on her and the other on their resumes. Through much of the summer, the board of directors had seemed to be leaning toward picking an

insider, such as enterprise computing chief Ann Livermore.

Fiorina not only had to quickly overcome her image as an outsider, she had to win over the support of the insiders to stave off an exodus. "Remember, we all were in the hunt for that CEO spot," says Antonio Perez, who then headed H-P's InkJet Products group and now oversees H-P's consumer initiatives. "We all were worried that she was going to say, 'This is the way we are going to do it.' But she said she wanted to build this house together."

It also didn't take long for Fiorina to act. Instead of a shake-up, she moved to restructure the entire computing and imaging company. Before, each divisional CEO ran what was essentially a standalone business, so there was no incentive to understand any other segment. Fiorina decided to change that right away. "We spent two of those three days reviewing everything," she says.

Fiorina's blunt approach seemed to come as a pleasant surprise to H-P execs. "Her aggressive, can-do attitude really contrasted with our conservative way of doing things," says Craig White, a senior vice president and general manager of H-P's technology finance group.

Another decisive and, in retrospect, prescient move: Fiorina told employees her game plan

before

her CEO appointment was made public. "We had a video from Carly to all of H-P's employees worldwide up by 3 a.m. PDT on the morning of the announcement," says Marlene Somsak, an H-P spokesperson.

Fiorina's up-front approach is as welcome on Wall Street as it is inside the company. "She's great with the Street, and she's very flirtatious" says Lenny Schuster, a money manager with

Gemina Capital

and an H-P shareholder. "When I was watching her on all the TV interviews recently, I was thinking that she's everything that all the other H-P executives are not: She's a much better communicator and she definitely gets people like us excited about the company's future prospects."

Many on the Street say if anyone can

push H-P into double-digit growth, it may very well be the dynamic Fiorina, who handles a room like a politician. "I respect Fiorina immensely, but we are going to go to the mat with H-P on every deal," says Masood Jabbar, president of

Sun Microsystems'

(SUNW) - Get Report

computer group.

Whether Fiorina's H-P can win in its markets as easily as it won over the Street has yet to be seen. But Fiorina has few illusions about the task before her. "The ultimate responsibility for the company's success or failure lies with me," she says. That level of accountability has employees excited again. "She doesn't shy away from publicity and she understands technology," says H-P's White, who has spearheaded the company's investments into Internet start-ups and into established telecom companies such as

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

.