If the U.S. is to remain ascendant in the world economy, it must lead in the development of energy, health, information and aerospace technologies, former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina said Wednesday.
The country also needs to reverse falling numbers of small-business formations and figure out ways to improve education without simply throwing dollars at the problem, Fiorina told an audience of more than 800 people who attended Zions Bank’s annual trade and business conference in Salt Lake City.
Fiorina said the small-business sector — the engine of innovation, job formation and living standards — is being discouraged in the U.S. by taxes, regulations and a climate that favors big business, big unions and professional politicians.
Oh, and don’t forget the importance of sound judgement , common sense and, especially, basic values, which will keep companies from crossing ethical boundaries that put them in the same camp as Wall Street banks and big corporations such as Enron.
"More things go badly because people suspend common sense, because folks forget about good judgement and because in the end people forget basic values, and knowing the difference between right and wrong. Rewarding people who do the right thing, even if it means missing an opportunity on the bottom line, that’s how leaders have to support sound values," Fiorina said.
Her remarks about business ethics came at the close of a sweeping speech about competition and the accelerating pace of change in the world. Through political reforms globally, close to 3 billion people have been brought into free markets. Although Fiorina could see 10 years ago that the world was rushing headlong into the digital age, most of the implications of the shift to business and society are still unclear.
Fiorina led HP from 1999 to 2005, before she was forced out by the board of directors over the company’s controversial deal to buy then-rival Compaq in 2002. In time, the acquisition has come to be viewed as a success.
Some of the digital implications Fiorina talked about are emerging. Because of the Internet and social media, nobody — least of all governments and bureaucratic institutions — can expect to keep any information, proprietary or otherwise, secret for very long, Fiorina said, citing JPMorgan’s $2 billion trading loss that became public earlier this month.
The speed at which digital products are reworking business and politics will only accelerate, she said. That means institutions that let down their guards may never catch up to their competitors. California, whose budget deficits are the result of policy missteps, no longer has the luxury of time to rectify its mistakes, said Fiorina, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Senate in 2010 against Democrat Barbara Boxer.
Despite her political leanings, Fiorina’s remarks were largely nonpartisan.
"I think she talks basic good sense," said audience member Alana Metcalf, director of sales and marketing for G-2 Fuel Technologies. Metcalf added that Fiorina’s remarks were "more of a reminder of what’s important — don’t miss the simple values. I think she got her point across without being political."
Fiorina’s ecumenical message was in contrast to that of David Neeleman, the founder and former CEO of JetBlue Airways, who went to Brazil four years ago to establish Azul Linhas Aereas Brasileiras.
Neeleman, a personal friend of Mitt Romney, urged the audience to financially support the presumptive Republican candidate’s campaign against President Barack Obama.
Neeleman founded JetBlue in 1998, after operating Salt Lake City-based Morris Air in Utah. On Wednesday, he repeatedly drew on his childhood years in Brazil and on an LDS Church mission to support his opinion that economic opportunities abound in the South American country.
"Brazil in so many ways is in just the beginning of its development cycle," he said. "There are billion-dollar businesses that you can start in three years in almost every sector" of the country’s economy.
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