Thursday, April 3, 2008

The First Watershed

Hewlett (and later Packard) described 1957 as HP’s Watershed. [i] This was the critical test for how or even whether the company, and Bill and Dave, could clear the hurdle that trapped so many. Watershed – the word connotes much in the arid West. A watershed event is a critical point that marks a fundamental division or a change of course – a true turning point.

In The HP Way, Dave singled out several differentiating events in 1957:
Taking the company public
Deciding to establish a manufacturing presence in Europe
Creating Product Divisions for the company
Holding the Company’s first off-site meeting for Senior managers
Introducing a formal set of Corporate Objectives
Enormous hiring expansion, with 87% new hires (vs. a typical 12%)
Occupancy of a new headquarters in the Stanford Industrial Park

Each of these was a significant event – taken together, they represented monumental dedication to a bolder future, one that could scale significantly and grow with the HP Way of personal initiative and feeling of participation without the founders having to be so directly involved as they had been up until now. Just as with the creation of the HP Way, much insight and ingenuity would be demonstrated in its evolution over the next decade. In retrospect, this would prove to be the far more important aspect of the HP Way – an ethos appropriate to a small intimate environment has been created innumerable times in world history, almost always doomed to failure as the enterprise grows larger than something the individuals can manage.

[i] History of HP videotapes circa 1983, Hewlett Family Foundation, HP TV Network. Disc #3, Chapter 15.


Bill Johnson said...

I have a copy of a memo from Packard while at the DoD to Geo Shultz as Dir of the OMB. It might be of value for your book. Evidently, Shultz's people had been pressing the DoD to set up a "vast network of reporting procedures" to reduce costs. One of my favorite quotes from the letter is, "It seems clear that the author knew far more about reporting than management. I am convinced that the output will be a defensible report, not better management...We cannot legislate good management and reporting won't create it"

If you have an interest, contact me at

Bill Johnson

chuck said...

Packard had a way of cutting right through things. At the Museum evening, several hand-scrawled notes were described. One said "Manifestly absurd"; another said "this is the ultimate in stupidity". Getting such a note would probably leave little doubt for the receiver how Dave felt.

How would YOU feel getting such a note?