Carly Fiorina speaks in Tampa, 'very seriously considering' presidential run


TAMPA — Carly Fiorina wants to “unlock potential."

Those two words were the subject of the possible Republican presidential candidate's talk Thursday afternoon in Tampa. Yet in front of about 300 local business leaders — almost all women — the former Hewlett-Packard CEO hinted at her own ambitions. 

“When did we decide only professional politicians can run for office?” Fiorina asked a filled ballroom at the Floridan Palace Hotel. “There are lots of experiences and perspectives that are valuable in public life.”

Her own experiences are overwhelmingly in business. She became the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company before the turn of the century — a point of pride for Fiorina, who graduated from Stanford with a medieval history and philosophy degree before a series of stumbles. 

She dropped out of law school, because she said she hated it. She was fired from her executive position at HP after a failed merger with Compaq. She was diagnosed with breast cancer months before she lost her 35-year-old stepdaughter to the "demon of addiction." And then she lost her Senate campaign in California about five years ago.

But the calm, collected conservative is still fighting. Maybe it's her name — Carly means "small champion" — or maybe it's her "potential."

Throughout her 30-minute address, she repeated the word many times. She stressed community involvement. She touched on foreign policy. And she reminded the crowd of her successes.

Fiorina earned a master's in management from MIT. She climbed the ladder at AT&T and jumped to corporate operations at Lucent. Then Fiorina landed at HP.

The crowd on Thursday was speckled with local leaders, like Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman and Tampa police Chief Jane Castor. 

One woman, Selena Ward, brought her 12-year-old daughter, Jonnee, who was on spring break from Tampa Preparatory School.

"I think it'll be a great experience for her," the 40-year-old said, "to see women in leadership."

Though the words "unlocking potential" are common, in usage the phrase is something Fiorina has sort of coined. It's the title of her Super PAC, a women's engagement initiative, and it's among a set of words she has accused Hillary Clinton of stealing: The former secretary of state recently told about 5,000 Silicon Valley female tech professionals to "unlock our full potential."

But on Thursday, Fiorina said, "I agree with Hillary Clinton," even though she has publicly condemned the potential Democratic presidential candidate.

"Maybe it'd be a good idea to have a woman in the White House," she said.

When asked if she could be that woman, Fiorina said, "Maybe." But will she run?

"I'm very seriously considering it," she said, adding that she will announce a decision in April or May. "Very seriously considering it."

Women's conference

Tampa will host the first Florida Women's Conference in May next year. Though event details are scarce, spokeswoman Kelsey Lehtomaa Frouge said she expects about 1,000 statewide attendees "from secretary to CEO" and said speakers will be announced this month.

Contact Rachel Crosby at or (813) 226-3400. Follow @rachelacrosby.