Fiorina’s ‘Secretary To CEO’ Narrative Is Bogus
The Washington Post fact checker shows this story for what it really is. Carly Fiorina portrays herself as an up-from-the-bootstrap success. While she has had success, it is not as much of an Horatio Alger story as she’d like us to believe. She says:
“I started as a secretary, typing and filing for a nine-person real estate firm. It’s only in this country that you can go from being a secretary to chief executive of the largest tech company in the world, and run for president of the United States. It’s only possible here…
“A self-made woman, she started her business career as a secretary and went on to become the first, and to date, the only woman to lead a Fortune 20 company.”
— Fiorina’s biography on her 2010 campaign Web site for U.S. Senate seat in California…
In fact, Fiorina’s PAC, CARLY for America, owns the domain for FromSecretaryToCEO.com, a Web site dedicated to her life story. It evokes a rags-to-riches-esque narrative reminiscent of a Horatio Alger novel — where the main character, with grit, hard work and some luck, lifts himself out of humble beginnings to achieve success.
However, let’s look at the facts.
she often [says] she came from a “modest and middle class family,” or “challenging the status quo,” which frames her story as an unlikely upstart. She also pitches it as an uniquely American experience.
But the description glosses over important details. Her father was dean of Duke Law School when she was at Stanford, meaning Duke would have paid for most of her college tuition. She graduated from Stanford, and her elite degree played a role in the stories of her at Marcus & Millichap (she was the “Stanford student”) and her convincing the business school dean to accept her into the MBA program (“So, can a liberal arts student from Stanford compete with the analytical jocks you have around here?”).
She worked briefly as a secretary in between law school and business school, but she always intended to attend graduate school for her career. She moved up through AT&T with her MBA, and was placed on a fast track to senior management after her company sponsored her to attend one of the most elite mid-career fellowships in the world…
Fiorina uses a familiar, “mailroom to boardroom” trope of upward mobility that the public is familiar with, yet her story is nothing like that. In telling her only-in-America story, she conveniently glosses over the only-for-Fiorina opportunities and options beyond what the proverbial mailroom worker has. As such, she earns Three Pinocchios.