Carly Fiorina, fired as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s chief executive in February, said she had "no regrets" about her five years at the helm of the world's largest printer maker.
In her first public appearance since her ouster, Fiorina told students of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in a commencement address Saturday that she is "at peace" and her "soul is intact."
"The worst thing I could have imagined happened," Fiorina said in the speech, which she had agreed to give before being fired. "I lost my job in the most public way possible, and the press had a field day with it all over the world. And guess what? I'm still here."
Fiorina, 50, cracked jokes about dusting off her resume, buying a new interview suit and lining up references. Hewlett-Packard's board ousted her Feb. 8 for failing to meet profit goals set after the $18.9-billion acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp.
Former NCR Corp. CEO Mark Hurd took over the position April 1.
Hewlett-Packard, whose shares have risen 3% since Fiorina's departure, will report second-quarter earnings next week. Its shares fell 29 cents Tuesday to $20.45 on the New York Stock Exchange.
"Many people have asked me how I feel now that I've lost my job," Fiorina said. "The truth is, I'm proud of the life I've lived so far and though I've made my share of mistakes, I have no regrets," she told the students, according to a copy of her prepared remarks given to Bloomberg News by her publicist.
Fiorina, who was paid a total of $188.6 million during her five- year reign, told students that she had endured discrimination. She said colleagues at AT&T; Corp. dubbed her a "token bimbo." She felt the same prejudice from competitors at Hewlett-Packard.
The first outsider tapped to run the San Jose-based company in its 67-year history, Fiorina warned students that others might "try to diminish and disgrace" them.
"You can spend a lifetime resenting the tests, angry about the slights and the injustices. Or you can rise above it," she said.
In her time as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina battled with Walter Hewlett, son of founder Bill Hewlett, leading up to the purchase of Compaq. In the months before her ouster she fought investors unhappy with the company's performance.
The stock fell 55% during Fiorina's tenure as profit growth failed to materialize and the company lost its No. 1 ranking in the personal computer market to rival Dell Inc.
"Everybody makes mistakes," said Chuck Jones, an analyst at San Francisco-based Stein Roe Investment Counsel. "You usually believe you did the right thing."
Fiorina, ranked by Fortune magazine as the most powerful woman in business from 1998 until last year, said in the speech that she spoke to North Carolina A&T; because the university graduates more African American engineers than any other school in the U.S.
She received her history and philosophy degree at Stanford University, a master's degree in business at the University of Maryland and a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Fiorina said she called James Renick, chancellor of the Greensboro, N.C., university, soon after she was fired from the company, which employs 145,000, to see whether the school still wanted her to talk at commencement.
"He said, 'Carly, if anything, you probably have more in common with these students now than you did before,' " Fiorina said in her 2,900-word speech. "And he's right. After all, I've been working on my resume. I've been lining up my references. I bought a new interview suit.
"If there are any recruiters here, I'll be free around 11," she said.