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Happily Ever After?


DEAR MISS NUPTIALS,

On the eve of my wedding, I'm getting the funny feeling that not everyone is totally supportive. My shareholders have withdrawn several billion from my stock trousseau. Cousin Walter Hewlett is fussing. Some customers say they won't buy our products until they're sure the marriage will work. My employees just can't seem to get past the fact that thousands of them will lose their jobs--I mean does everything always have to be about them? Ironically, my competitors Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy and Dell Computer Founder Michael Dell have been super-supportive. Miss Nuptials, am I just being too sensitive?

SIGNED, CARLY FIORINA

DEAR CARLY,

Somehow, ever since that press conference where you and Compaq Computer Inc. CEO Michael D. Capellas put on that Very Brady Bunch engagement party, I knew I'd be hearing from you. Alas, the days are past when an indefatigable blonde lady in an excellent pantsuit can proclaim her optimism for merging two dysfunctional families into one big happy one and be taken seriously. I must confess that, when I heard that loud crash, I thought the Brady's dog Tiger had gotten loose and was dragging Alice the housekeeper around--but I guess it was just the sound of all that market value being vaporized.

I hate to break it to you, Carly, but Las Vegas oddsmakers believe that it's more likely Osama bin Laden will give the commencement address at Sarah Lawrence next June than that anything good will come of the Hewlett-Packard/Compaq marriage. The stats on tech mergers are worse than the divorce rate. The majority of mergers lose value for shareholders. Have you never heard of AT&T (T) and NCR (NCR)? Burroughs and UNIVAC? Just ask Mr. Capellas about Compaq's ill-considered elopement with DEC. I know he assured you that it meant nothing (men!)--but there's a lesson there.

Miss Nuptials knows that you are frustrated, but I was startled by that e-mail you sent HP employees defending the merger and reminding them "until your manager tells you otherwise, stay focused." Miss Nuptials wonders if "otherwise" might have sounded a bit like "until you're asked to pack up and march briskly to the parking lot."

On the bright side, I applaud your moxie in forging a truly modern alliance, what with Compaq (CPQ) agreeing to take your name and all. But really, isn't it time you cleaned up your own company before you start slathering other people's problems on it like frosting on a seven-layer cake? Miss Nuptials always urges families to respect a bride's choices, but announcing that you were "not surprised" when the founding families of HP (HWP) came out against this hookup was a blast of snippishness unbecoming a well-compensated CEO. After all, we have come to that part of the ceremony when people with a few billion on the line don't have to hold their peace.

The heat is on, and no doubt wedding planners at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Goldman Sachs are busy spritzing you with Optimism and Eau de Synergy. However, we have checked with Miss Manners on this and declare that backing out might still be the better course. It's not like anyone but Michael Dell and Scott McNealy have sent gifts, and I hardly think those silver goblets engraved with "1+1=-2" were in good taste. What's a few caterers' deposits compared with marching a once-great company down the aisle and into a sinkhole? Miss Nuptials' advice: Bow out, check into a spa for a refreshing makeover, and peruse the ample literature on co-dependency--in your case starting with CEOs Who Merge Too Much.

SIGNED, MISS NUPTIALS By Joan O'C. Hamilton


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