Tough Choices by Carly Fiorina : A Book Review

By Jolly Mokorosi

I was given this book by some friends who lead one of the London chapters of the church I attend. Once I had introduced Top Women for God to them, they thought this would be a brilliant book to review and speak to the hearts and situations of many of the ladies on this platform. It didn’t take much to convince me. After reading the description at the back and a quote by my favourite magazine, The Economist, on the front; I was hooked on the idea of reading the book.

Tough choices

The book itself is a memoir of Carly Fiorina’s life till the point where she leaves Hewlett Packard (HP), but it mostly focuses on her time climbing the ranks in AT&T as well as CEO of HP. Having come out of a very busy period I did not instantly get into the book. I tried to read it a few times and between getting lost in a number of lines here and there and living life out of a suitcase the beginning felt slow. It helped that my environment changed (from busy London, Dubai and Johannesburg) and I eventually shifted to one that was quiet (rural Lesotho).

It kicks of with her background and family after a prologue describing her last moments at HP. Things heat up when she gets to AT&T and the whip gets cracking when she starts to talk about her term at HP. The book does not make assumptions about your business acumen and so it breaks things down to keep the reader following easily. For example she explains that synergy is a fancy word for the whole being greater that the sum  of the parts. In business terms it means that when different products or services are combined into a solution, or different parts of an organization work together out in the marketplace, there is a greater opportunity for growth, marketshare and/or profitability.

There is also plenty of leadership insights. In the 19th chapter she states “Sometimes people say ‘I can’t’ because the objective they’re being asked to achieve is truly out of reach. Then it’s vitally important to make sure everyone has the same view of reality. Why do people see the facts differently? And where is common ground? If this objective is unachievable what should we be striving for? Whenever a leader hears a team say “we can’t,” for whatever reason, much more conversation is required. And teams are built through such conversations. Teams are built when people can work together to successfully solve problems and achieve goals. Teams are built through effective collaboration”

The Good

The endorsements on the book are good. They come from credible sources that make you want to read the book. The book reads like a strategy analysis/MBA material more than that of your usual business memoir and as the author plays open cards plus external observer in one, it is sprinkled with wisdom gained in hindsight. You nearly sense that you have had to opportunity to interview Carly and she is talking directly to you about what happened and why. Her attitude is one of someone who is victorious inspite of the final outcome. You find yourself rooting for her and experiencing the highs and lows but learning valuable lessons at every turn. You hear her heart. Her heart is to teach and educate as well as set the record straight.

The Bad

For some the book might read like a long advert and self promotion on the part of the author. This could be influenced by preconceived ideas and feelings towards Carly Fiorina, HP or any of the other prominent people mentioned in the book as well as your motive behind reading the book. This was not my perception but I could understand how someone could come out with that feeling.

At 326 pages with afterword, it is not a short, afternoon read. Therefore not for the faint hearted. It is also not a christian book per say but the author alludes to her faith in some parts of the book.

The Ugly

Not much. She stayed away from mud slinging for much of the book and stumbled a bit towards the end. It felt a bit inevitable if the purpose of the book was the set the record straight on much of what happened. Mostly she declines to name people who she has had negative experience with. I thought this was the honourable thing to do as those individuals do not have the same opportunity to clear their names.


After a number of rough career experiences one can believe that there is something wrong with you and your situation is unique. But I found myself identifying time and time again with the experiences the author had. Truly Solomon spoke the truth when in Ecclesiastes 1:9 he said,” What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (NIV). In all I found the book to be a surprisingly healing experience for me (maybe that explains my advocacy for the book). The book gets a resounding YES from me and Carly Fiorina gets much respect from me too. I would recommend it to anyone who aspires to the C suite in any corporate environment, wants to understand corporate culture and leadership or is building a business empire. I would also recommend it to anyone who likes good business reads.



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