On Thursday, April 26, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina presented a lecture to the Providence College community about the importance of leadership and a liberal arts education. Fiorina was featured as the keynote speaker for this year’s Fiondella Lecture at the PCSB Dean’s Symposium, where she spoke about her experiences using liberal arts values throughout her career in business.
Fiorina recounted stories of her beginnings as a philosophy and medieval history major at Stanford University, and her first job out of college—a receptionist at a small real estate firm. Though her first job did not necessarily pertain to a degree in philosophy and medieval history, she said she was “grateful to have it. I didn’t feel it was beneath me.” She then offered advice to students on how to be successful after graduation:
“Get a job, any job. It doesn’t matter what the job is. Do a really good job. You’ll learn a lot about the company, the people around you, and how the world works. Someone will notice. Opportunity will knock. Open the door and see where life takes you…You don’t have to have it all figured out. You just have to start.”
After working at the real estate firm, Fiorina returned to school to earn an MBA from the University of Maryland, College Park and a degree in management from the MIT Sloan School of Management. She went on to work in an entry level position at AT&T. From there, she began to find success. Fiorina credits this success to finding and solving problems, even if it means challenging the status quo.
“Leadership is not about the position or the title you hold. It’s also not management. Managers produce results within existing constraints and conventions. The purpose of leadership is to change the status quo.… The catalyst to solve any problem, big or small, is someone or a group of someones who will challenge the status quo.”
Fiorina also spoke specifically about how her liberal arts education served her well throughout her career in business. In particular, she mentioned a graduate-level seminar on medieval philosophy that taught her a valuable skill—the ability to distill something to its essence. Fiorina was required to read major works by philosophers and write a two page summary on each one. She said she would first write 20 pages, and eventually cut it down to just two—a practice that taught her how to identify what was most “important, profound, and unique.”
“Critical thinking, perspective, an understanding of how people are, and being able to distill things to their essence, are as essential to a good career and a good life as technical skills designed to get a technical job. Humanities is how I happened to learn that.”
Fiorina received a standing ovation at the end of her lecture from the audience of about 700 people. She then signed books for students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
To read the full story about Carly Fiorina’s lecture at the Dean’s Symposium, click here!