Wednesday, April 2, 2008

HP Interpretive History

Hewlett-Packard has had surprisingly few books written about its business history, most of them focused on dramatic sagas.[i] The ironies are many, the facts are spare.

A company derided for years by observers as lacking energy, stardom, leadership, will, and direction – a company that always resisted fast growth, but did pride itself on moderate, steady results – was the fastest-growing New York Stock Exchange company over the last forty years of the 20th century, and has become the largest electronics equipment vendor in the world.
[i] There are innumerable chapters and excerpts in books, plus myriad magazine articles over the years. There were two books by the founders: one (Inventions of Opportunity: Matching Technology with Market Needs) had a few pages written by Hewlett along with reprints of key product developments from the HP Journal (1983); the other, The HP Way, was Packard’s laconic and austere autobiography published in 1995, a year prior to his death. And then there are the Carly books – three of them at this writing; one, a memoir by Carly Fiorina, Tough Choices, 2006; and two others primarily covering the Compaq-HP merger fight that she led successfully – Burrows, Peter, Backfire, 2003, and Anders, George, Perfect Enough, 2003. A useful compendium of speeches given by Hewlett and Packard has been compiled from the HP Archives by long-time employee Albert Yuen, Bill and Dave’s Memos, 2DaysOfSummer Books, Palo Alto, CA, 2006. Most recently, Michael Malone completed a magnificent biography of the two founders, Bill and Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company, Penguin Group, NYC, NY, 2007.

[ii] McKinsey study 1958-1998, reported by Richard Foster at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the Entrepreneur series, April 14, 2003 (c.f. Foster, Creative Destruction, Why Companies that are Built to Last Underperform the Market, Currency, Doubleday, NYC, NY, 2001). Foster was troubled that HP’s numbers won the contest, since (a) he didn’t regard it as a major growth company (vs. Apple, Microsoft, SUN, Dell or Compaq, for example), and (b) HP was the model company for the “Built to Last” thesis for Jim Collins which was the antithesis for Foster’s work. True, other companies did in fact grow faster, but not over the entire forty-year span of the study. Re size, see Forbes 2000 Sales, April 12, 2004, p. 147.

No comments: