When Fiorina was appointed CEO HP in 1999 she became the first woman to be CEO of a Dow Jones Industrial Average component. As a result whether she intended to or not, she along with Meg Whitman became the face of women in corporate world. In 2000 she also was appointed Chairman of the Board.
Fiorina's tenure was not without challenge. During her tenure HP experienced extremely tough competition from rival Dell. Fiorina's most notable decision was the controversial choice to merge with rival Compaq in 2002. The merger resulted in significant immediate job losses and loss of market share for the combined giant. Post merger HP performed inconsistently and the share price of the company was anemic. Fiorina was forced out as in 2005 receiving a severance well above her annual salary as has become customary in corporate America.
Fiorina's legacy will likely be unusually noted due to her prominence in the media, outspokenness and trailblazing role for women. Many of her supporters point to HP's recent success (including taking the number 1 spot back from Dell in PC market share) that her plan to merge with compaq was the right one, but that she wasn't given enough time to implement it.
Fiorina's arrival at HP also marked another stage in the typical transition from an entrepreneurial company led by its founders to a professionally managed player in a highly competitive market. HP was founded as a manufacturer of scientific instruments and one of the original companies in Silicon Valley. Its leadership in instrumentation evolved to a major position in computer printers and a midsized player in personal computers and work stations. Fiorina arrived when Dell's make to order/direct to consumer model was the low cost leader in PCs and when Dell and others threatened to cut margins in the printer business. Dell could finance its entre to printers with profits from PCs, but HPs PC business was marginal and vulnerable. Acquiring Compaq gave HP critical mass in PCs giving it costs competitive with those of Dell, but cost cutting and reorganization associated with the transition traumatized the HP culture. The changes were necessary for the future of HP, but Fiorina's position as hired hatchet person was not sustainable. She had to go to calm the culture.