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Business Editor's Notebook: Fiorina thinks entrepreneurs could use a little help

MIKE COTE
May 02. 2015 4:56PM
Carly Fiorina takes a question at the New Hampshire House Business Caucus at The Barley House in Concord on Tuesday. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO will serve as keynote speaker at the New Hampshire High Tech Council's Entrepreneur of the Year Award event on Friday. (David Lane/Union Leader)



ASK CARLY FIORINA to define entrepreneurship, and she might tell you about a New Hampshire company whose sensors help protect Michelangelo's heavenly visions on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

In "Rising to the Challenge," a book that arrives in stores Tuesday, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard praises MadgeTech, a small business in Warner that makes devices that measure humidity, heat, pressure and other factors that could damage such sensitive materials as the frescoes that adorn the cathedral's ceiling and walls in Rome.

Like the namesakes of the company Fiorina once led, MadgeTech founder Norm Carlson started building the sensors in his garage. Nearly 20 years later - including an early stretch of lonely struggle - Carlson employs about 50 people, and his company has secured an international reputation.

"What struck me about him was he's sort of the essence of what we say we're after when we talk about entrepreneurship," said Fiorina, who met Carlson last year. "Here's a guy. He has an idea. He doesn't get a lot of help. But he is committed. He knows that he has this great idea and can make it work. And, thankfully, he was able to. And so now he's creating livelihoods for a lot of people."

The passage about MadgeTech in Fiorina's book is just a single paragraph, but it might help her set the stage for a keynote address she's giving on Friday at the New Hampshire High Tech Council's Entrepreneur of the Year Award celebration at the Radisson Hotel.

The possible Republican presidential contender has been spending a lot of time in the Granite State lately. We caught up with her Thursday after she gave a speech about national security at a forum in Manchester.

Fiorina said she chose to mention Carlson because his story illustrates the kind of risk-taking we need to encourage.

"He's creating great products. We have a U.S. company that's leading in this field," she said. "In as much as I admired his courage and his determination and his success, I always wonder how many other people are there like that out there who didn't get to make it. And we need to make it easier, not harder."

That can be difficult in a system that discourages people from taking chances, she says.

"Entrepreneurs know that building something new takes risk. And if you're going to take risks, you're going to make mistakes," said Fiorina, the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. "One of the things I think we've done now over years and years and years - we've made risk-taking and mistake-making way too hard.

"And when we make risk-taking and mistake-making too hard we don't get as many entrepreneurs," she said. "People don't step forward. And that creates problems for everybody in this economy because new businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurs, they are the engines of innovation and growth in this country."

Fiorina, who now lives in Virginia, considers her former home state of California a poster child for how government can become hostile to business.

"California has 111 billionaires, the headquarters of some of the most famous tech companies in the world and the highest poverty rates in the nation," she said. "The middle class has exited; young families have exited. Industry after industry has been destroyed."

With one notable exception, of course. Think Google. Think Apple.

"The technology industry hasn't been destroyed yet, but interestingly it is the least regulated and the most highly competitive industry in the world," said Fiorina, whose first foray into politics was a failed run in California for U.S. Senate in 2010. "That's why it hasn't been destroyed in California. And yet, the government, the FCC, has just published 400 pages of regulation over the Internet. That's a bad sign.

"When you over-regulate, when you over-tax, when you begin to punish risk-taking and mistake-making, the consequence is you get a few really rich people and you get way too many very poor people."

The Entrepreneur of the Year Award event takes place 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester. Tickets are $80 for New Hampshire High Tech Council members, $100 for nonmembers and $60 for students. For more information, visit nhhtc.org.

Mike Cote is business editor. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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