Former HP CEO champions small businesses

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Photo by Maria Zepeda.

At a talk sponsored by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, Carly Fiorina spoke about the crushing effect of increasingly complex government regulations on small businesses.

A former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, former California Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate and prominent philanthropist, Fiorina said she worked her way up in the business world from her start as a typist for a small company. Addressing a crowd of roughly 50 members of the Yale and New Haven communities on Tuesday in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, Fiorina said the U.S. government has become unwieldy and is limiting the potential of the American economy.

“I believe the reason that our economy is sort of in a flat line right now … is because we are crushing the entrepreneurial spirit of this country,” Fiorina said. “There’s a structural problem that we have created in my opinion through excessive regulation, unbelievably complicated bureaucracies, excessively complex tax code and a government that just keeps growing and growing and growing.”

More small businesses are failing and fewer are starting now than any time in the last 40 years, she said.

While large companies can afford to pay lawyers to sort through tax codes and find loopholes in legislation, small businesses suffer because they do not have the necessary resources to grapple with complex regulations, Fiorina said. She added that this negatively affects the economy because small businesses innovate at a rate seven times that of large corporations.

Fiorina said she learned from her own business experience that big, centralized bureaucracies are ineffective, inefficient and prone to corruption. While complex bureaucracies spend nearly 50 percent of their time just on communication, she said that decentralized decision-making would allow the government to respond quickly to new developments. Though technology has simplified and improved access to information, government regulations have moved in the opposite direction, she said.

Fiorina dropped out of law school at 23 and began working as an administrative assistant. Though the job, which involved answering phones, was humble, she said it taught her many lessons about business. Anyone can make a difference in the way a business runs, she added.

“This is the only country on the face of the earth where a young woman who is a law school drop out and a secretary can become the CEO of the largest technology company in the world,” she said. “This is the only place in the world still where it matters less who you are, where you come from, what you look like, what your last name is — it matters more where you want to go.”

Fiorina said entrepreneurism has defined the U.S. economy since its beginning. Americans want to pursue their ambitions, start small businesses and grow those businesses into large, successful ones, she said.

She advised Yale students to worry less about comparing starting salaries, adding that anything is possible if they take advantage of opportunities and pursue meaningful work.

Students interviewed said they found Fiorina’s discussion of entrepreneurship engaging.

“I really thought it was important that she harped on issues of entrepreneurship, particularly in a country that is still reeling from one of the greatest economic downturns it’s ever seen,” Zach Young ’17 said.

Young added that, although he does not believe small businesses are necessarily the country’s largest job creators, the government should be more thoughtful about new regulations and their potential repercussions for entrepreneurs.

Josh Altman ’17 said he thinks Fiorina generalized certain claims about the effects of government on small businesses. Nevertheless, he said Fiorina presented helpful advice for Yale students nervous about starting careers upon graduation, he said.

Fiorina chairs the board of Good 360, an organization that helps companies donate excess merchandise to charity.

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