Leadership Series Guest Carly Fiorina Breaks Down The Lessons Behind Her Leadership

Monday, March 9, 2020
Carly Fiorina on stage at the leadership series luncheon

The guest of Thursday’s Rockhurst University Leadership Series luncheon, Carly Fiorina, told the audience that when she started her career as a receptionist at a small real estate office, she didn’t necessarily have eyes on the corner office.

In spite of that initial lack of ambition, she would eventually work her way up, becoming the first-ever woman to lead a Fortune 50 company as CEO of Hewlett Packard Co., along the way learning a lot about the qualities that make a good leader.

“Loving to learn is an incredibly important part of life and of leading,” she said.

And it wasn’t just the examples of those around her — as a college student, Fiorina said she was a student of history and philosophy, each of which helped shape her perspective in numerous ways.

“From philosophy, we learn that ideas matter,” she said. “Ideas can change the world — ideas built this nation.”

From history, Fiorina said, she learned the self-destructive tendencies of human nature and the potential of the human spirit to achieve greatness.

But that potential must be unlocked, Fiorina said, and in her keynote speech to a room full of Kansas City area business and organizational leaders, she laid out some of the lessons on leadership that have served her in her career — not just as a corporate leader, but as a philanthropist, bestselling author, and onetime presidential candidate.

First, she said true leaders are not always those with the biggest office. Instead it’s often true that those closest to the problem have the best grip on solutions. Fiorina added that everyone has more potential than they realize — and unlocking that potential in others to change the world for the better is what she considered the “highest calling” for a leader. She invoked the inscription on the University’s bell tower, “learning, leadership and service in the Jesuit tradition,” in charging the audience to live out those lessons with character and ethics at the forefront.

“Let each of us, let all of us, find our potential,” she said. “And lead to serve.”

Following her comments, Fiorina sat down with University President the Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., and Rockhurst University senior Cailtin Ricker for an informal question and answer session.

Also during the luncheon, Rockhurst University honored six women with the annual Rashford-Lyon Award for Leadership and Ethics in recognition of the five decades since the University went coed. The women, each leaders in their own right, also represented different eras in institutional history: Jean Dunn raised five sons who were all Rockhurst graduates and have run JE Dunn Construction Co. for generations, representing the generations of women who provided the foundation for Rockhurst students; Mary Sherman, ’75, who along with her husband, John, has been a philanthropic leader for Kansas City; Lisa Ginter, ’87, who as CEO of CommunityAmerica Credit Union has been recognized for corporate and philanthropic success; Wendy Doyle, ’94, a longtime leader in Kansas City’s nonprofit world and current president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation; Ama Karikari, M.D., ’07, who has devoted her career to serving children as an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine and a pediatric hospitalist at the Children’s Hospital at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Bridgette Williams, ’16 EMBA, who worked her way up to the presidency of the Greater KC AFL-CIO, the first female African-American to hold that position, and is currently executive director of the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City.