Friday, November 20, 2009

Wallenberg talk yesterday

A large number of old HP friends and colleagues, coupled with a complement of Media X followers, filled Wallenberg's Learning Center. In addition, a first for us, we did a live streaming from the talk. I even had a few books on the front table (demonstration-proof that there is a book) and the Stanford Bookstore sold some as well, I heard...
The talk began with the three points that Media X has been observing -- 1. the World is Flat, leading to both a very heightened need for collaboration and a much higher competitive pressure from 'everywhere'; 2. the Social Networking phenomenon is 'real' rather than a fad, so whether it's YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, the kids want to participate, not spectate; and 3. it isn't clear that anyone can marshal support or energy for long, drawn-out difficult scenarios ala the Global Warming issues or the Health Care debate. Participants are just not inclined to be followers, so there is kind of a double whammy happening here.
Then it moved to a thesis about Company Leadership styles -- including both the Tops Down vs. Bottoms Up duality, and the Engineer Led vs the Business Led duality. The assertion is that "the Old HP" was Bottoms Up / Engineer Led (Intel was and mostly still is Tops Down / Engineer Led), and that such a company is vastly more apt to be innovative, and able to renew than a company managed for productivity, profitability, and efficiency. Not necessarily better, and almost certainly less effective in the short time, but more resilient and more apt to create new jobs, especially new kinds of jobs.
And then some stories from the book -- and Packard's resolute reluctance for almost every new market shift, but nonetheless, willing to let it play out and have the market decide, plus betting on the enthusiasm, drive and perseverance of the 'innovative kids'.
Great good fun, at least from my perspective

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The HP 35 market research story

Ray Price was in town, and he was my guest at the Palo Alto Fellowship Forum. The guest speaker was Nils Nilsson, the fabled longtime leader of the SRI Artificial Intelligence Lab. And appropriately, several guests were in attendance, some of them old SRI types.

Just before I intro'd Ray, another member intro'd Roy Clay, who was HP's first software jock. He is featured in our book re the HP 2116, HP's first minicomputer (or instrument controller). I'd not met him; Ray conducted that interview. I stood, held up our new book, and mentioned Roy as well as intro'd Ray.

On my right, a fellow said, "oh, I met Bill Hewlett once". Asked the circumstance, he said, "I was at SRI, and he had a little balsa wood model of a handheld calculator, and he wanted some market research done. So I put together a plan, and some focus groups, and conducted them in San Francisco. Turns out, he wanted more than $200 for this thing, and everyone loved it but not at that price. So I wrote a "won't work" report." His name is Bill Waters, and I showed him our passage in the book that said, "Hewlett ignored the dismal market research report from the prestigious firm, SRI". We laughed together.

The product unalterably changed HP forever.

HP and Silicon Valley

The book has generated some 'new insight' re HP's involvement in 'silicon' -- some of those unwritten stories that James Burke with "Connections" always treasured.

The book notes that HP had more semiconductor processes "in production" by a factor of two than any other chip manufacturer, ever. This was due to unique needs for instrumentation leadership mostly. But it translated into more than half of all Gallium Arsenide chips for satellite communications, and more than half of all Light Emitting Diodes (the flashing red lites on your VCR or digital clock) for years -- HP was the undisputed III-V compound semiconductor manufacturer, whether for truly high frequency signals or for light output.

The book also documents HP leadership in microprocessor architecture, design, and manufacture, leading Intel usually by about three years, up to and including the Itanium design, still the world's most "powerful" microcomputer chipset which was designed by HP and licensed for manufacture by Intel.

But memory chips are what built Silicon Valley, actually, and HP's role here was more interesting and more lightly mentioned. Yes, HP helped craft the specs for the Intel 1103 DRAM, the first 1K memory chip, and yes, they bought 40% of the output from Intel for the first two years (East Coast computer folk were still wed to magnetic core memory). But it had never been documented, and I only pieced it together last week, that the Anderson Bombshell (in the book) which nearly derailed the U.S. push for MCC and Sematech, was heavily stimulated by the YHP (Yokagawa HP joint venture) semiconductor testset, derived from HP's acquired R-L-C meters from Boonton Radio. I reported on this in last week's blog, so this will just add a bit.

This is one of those stories where a resourceful group bucked HP top mgmt, survived long and difficult development cycles, found only ONE customer (Hitachi) which figured out how to build radically more reliable, higher performance chips cheaper as a result. YHP never was able to sell Silicon Valley manufacturers; the net result is that today the $20 Billion (yup) memory chip business is entirely elsewhere -- a shift that happened in a mere five years (between the 8K and 64K memory chip 'space'). I have now interviewed four HP top managers involved with YHP, and I don't believe that HP top mgmt or Intel top mgmt ever had a clue that this is all related; if Intel had known it, Andy Grove's epiphany in 1985 might have been hastened by several years (or he might instead have been able to adopt the 'winning tools').

Great speculation at any rate. Fun to hear the stories come forward...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

connecting is such fun

This week, with Ray Price in town, has been wonderful for us. We've met a number of old colleagues around the circumstance of the book being published. Alan Bickell shared a cup of coffee, and we reminisced about Y-HP, and he helped put more "flesh on the bone" about the semiconductor test set done there, as well as the emergent Samsung memory chips a decade later. Dean Morton added his perspective the next day, and Art Fong contributed more that night. The story is impressive -- it has to do with how a small remote division ignored Palo Alto leadership for years, finally prevailing on a very difficult project, only to find they couldn't sell it, and yet eventually would reshape the entire semiconductor world and the companies in it.

When Y-HP sold one unit, eventually, to Hitachi, that company found that it could control doping levels for impurities much more precisely -- a fact that relatively soon led to a massive adoption by other Japanese firms, and gave the world better memory chips much cheaper than U.S. vendors, notably Intel and Texas Instruments which were two of the leading worldwide Dynamic RAM vendors. There were three repercussions in relatively short order:

1. The Japanese "took over" the 16K and then the 64K RAM chip business, going from less than 10% of the business in 8K chips (1977) to more than 80% of worldwide chips in the 64K chips in six years. Midway through, U.S. vendors got very concerned, even going to Washington DC to seek "government relief" --> leading eventually to MCC (1982) and Sematech (1986) national initiatives. Bob Noyce, co-founder of Intel, left that company to head Sematech.
2. Dick Anderson, HP's Computer Systems VP, delivered the 'Anderson Bombshell' in Washington DC in March 1980, describing the twin facts that Japanese 16K memory chips were not only cheaper (and thought to be "dumping" in America), but 1000% more likely to pass incoming inspection, and lasted 500% longer in operation. Intel and TI both viewed this as "sour grapes" from a competitor even though HP was the largest memory chip purchaser in the world at the time. HP's BPC microprocessor (16-bit micro) had shipped 77,000 units to customers before Intel could source 8086 production units to anyone; TI and HP had been locked in a nonsensical price war initiated by TI over handheld calculators. TI, infringing heavily on HP patents, threatened to withhold memory chips if HP sued. Bad blood flowed.
3. Intel's Andy Grove capitulates to the Japanese in 1986, taking Intel out of memories and into microprocessors. He still describes this as "an epiphany." All other U.S. manufacturers bail out as well. The memory chip market today (2008) is an $18 Billion worldwide market, with no U.S. manufacturers.

No one, to our knowledge, has until now made the connection between the HP semiconductor test sets and the radically better processing technology that Hitachi and others then pioneered. The incredible 'rest of the story' is that Y-HP tried for years to sell its testers to U.S. vendors, with no success; consequently, it was virtually HP's only division with radically higher sales in Japan than anywhere else in the world. Palo Alto management for years associated this with bad marketing skills at Y-HP in contrast to NIH within U.S. semiconductor firms.

Attendees at Keplers event

We each recognized many, and we "knew" more (but like a class reunion, couldn't quite put a name with a face sometimes). Art Fong -- Mr. Microwave -- was there, and we got some pictures with him; Curt Gowan, who runs the HPAA alumni group for Agilent and HP retirees said a few words; and Steve Leibson, who has a brilliant Colorado Computing website,, introduced us to the audience.

Our brief outline of the book, and some perspective on the two founders, four successor CEOs, two strategists, and two technologists, was followed by a great interactive Q & A, including the inevitable "how is the HP Way today?" or, for many, "what happened to the HP Way?".

Many actually bought books, and asked us to sign 'em; quite a privilege, and I even was coached on which page you're supposed to sign your name (no, it is not the inside front cover page). But almost last in line, shy and diffident, was a slight man with a wry smile, who asked for our signature. I asked, "who for?" and he said, "I'm a relative". Turns out, he said he was a son of the shy and diffident co-founder and my alltime hero, Bill Hewlett. I tentatively stammered, "are you Jim?". And yes, he was Jim. We had never met, but he was the only scion from either founder to ever work at HP. He programmed for Roy Clay on the HP 2116 for a year and a half -- a fact that we had put into the manuscript at one point, but somehow that part didn't survive the editing process (along with many other wonderful pieces that we wished we could have kept). Again, an incredible privilege for both Ray and me to meet this man, and to realize he came to hear us.

Many others were in attendance; it'd be folly to try to list them all, but two others merit some comment -- Roland Haitz, who shared some terrific stories about the LED and components business with us, and has built a great Components timeline, but alas, we chose not to use most of that for the book (it will be featured in an evening at the Computer History Museum next year); and Srini Nageshwar, who "named" the LaserJet (even tho at the Personal Computer division) when Boise Division had the prosaic name, HP 2686. Sukumar was key to the original HP 250 saga, as well as the HP 150 Touchscreen, and many other programs.

It was a wonderful evening to realize that we barely scratched the surface of this wonderful HP legacy for so many people.

keplers was a great venue

Kepler's Bookstore, already a stronghold in Menlo Park when I arrived at HP in 1962, is 'enduring' -- hard for bookstores to do in this digital age. They graciously hosted Ray and me last night for an Author's Nite -- it is a real thrill to see a booktable of your own book, and then to have a video interview by knowledgeable booksellers, followed by a wonderful crowd of friends and HP colleagues and friendly others. What a privilege that Keplers afforded us!

They have a "Literary Circle Membership" for any of you locals, that helps to defray the costs of their Author program, and also helps to keep them "in the game". While we all like the lowered costs of Amazon and the other online sellers, speaking from VERY personal experience lately, I can aver that "in your hands", browseability, and ambiance are still unmatched in a bookstore environs. Kinda like TV baseball or football is great, but really different than going to the game.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

harvard Biz Online re innovation

This week HBR Online is featuring a series of folk about innovation vs. Core Competence and other moves such as significant Outsourcing. Great debates! We are going to try an entry; who knows...

Our belief strongly is that the HP book is relevant now more than ever as an alternative to CEO's who manage to the numbers, for efficiency rather than innovation. And trust in employees, in people closest to the problem working best on the solutions, etc. is fundamental to The HP Way. It also is the only conceivable way to imagine running a company spread across the globe, where one out of five professionals has never met their boss face-to-face, and half of them never expect to do so. (We didn't ask how many don't want to meet them).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Well, there will doubtless be lots of discussion on multiple points. And we welcome input, commentary, debate, and certainly corrections. Please, feel free...

Distinguishing between facts, historical recollections, interpretations, and opinions is part of the fun. But "facts" are the most awkward to get wrong. And of course there will be some.

For a previous book re HP, I compiled 16 pp. of single-spaced typing errata; not sure that the author was particularly appreciative! And even for Joan Didion, I once offered some constructive helpful commentary (she icily said she thought "the book could stand as it was")

So, here's a few "nitpicks" from various places (as one kindly reviewer titled his email):
p. 68 Narda built Microwave gear only; Berkeley Labs (cf p. 51) built only counters
p. 117 Boonton Radio (not B. Electronics) was bought (two places). Footnotes (#46, p.558; #12, p. 563) got it right; the text did not.
p. 129 confusion between text and FN re Howard Harrington's microwave molecular rotational spectrometer vs. the quadrapole mass spectrometer done at HP Labs.
p. 132 John Minck was in a meeting w Weindorf and Hewlett; wonders if this was Bill, not Dave
p. 144 The HP 8405A was not linked to the HP 2116; instead it was the HP 8410 successor unit.
p. 253 The system shown is the HP 8540 Automatic Network Analyzer system, using the HP2116 and the HP 8410 mentioned above. The operator is Dr. Steve Adam, one of the early inventive HP Microwave folk, called "bombastic" by many. He could have been profiled; regret that we missed him
p. 275 The dual sampling head was used by 'scopes and by the HP 8410 Vector Network Analyzer, not by the Spectrum Analyzers...
p. 391 Eugenie Prime prefers to use her real name rather than Price (Freudian on our part)

upcoming events

Both Ray and I will be talking / answering Q at Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park next Wednesday evening Nov 11 at 7pm. This is our only "scheduled" joint appearance; kinda like flying on planes, spread the risk and don't let too many catch you both in one spot...

I will be featured at Wallenberg Learning Theatre (Rm 124, Wallenberg Hall in the Main Quad at Stanford) on Nov 19th, noon to 1pm as part of the Media X autumn lecture series.

December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day), I have the privilege of addressing the Bay Area HP/Agilent Retiree Club at their annual luncheon in Palo Alto.

That night at 7pm (reception at 6pm, sponsored by Intuit -- not HP or Agilent!), I'll present at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

And December 9th, the Monitor Group and Global Business Network are hosting in San Francisco.

Each talk will be "different" in specifics, if not in the general outline. You know me....

Monday, November 2, 2009

interesting intro, about like old HP products

We called this a "rolling start" in the old days. The book was "available" from Stanford U Press on October 9 supposedly, told to us as October 19, shipped from Amazon that day to pre-orders, receiving it on Oct. 20. Orders to Amazon have consistently filled within five or six days, sometimes much sooner. Barnes/Noble dropped the price to $18.90 for members on Oct. 24; yesterday and today, they canceled all of those orders, saying that they "cannot obtain books despite strong efforts" which means they are losing money on each, and don't want to fill them, I think. Their new price = $28.00, $25.20 for members. Amazon today filled morning orders by evening time, at $20.47, down from $23.10 last week. And Borders stocked the book today in some stores. Kepler's and Stanford bookstore have had it for two weeks.

And today, Stanford publicists sent out a press release about it, to about forty correspondents with various books, magazines, and newspapers, along with the promise of a book "sometime". HP used to introduce products this way, somewhat leisurely and dependent on who was where. Ah, well...

We've stayed pretty consistently in the top 12,000 or so for Amazon for a couple weeks, with three categories usually earning a Top Five for new releases -- "High Tech" (8th overall, 4th in new releases), Manager's Guide to Computing (13th overall, 3rd in new releases), and Company Profiles (42nd overall, 9th new releases) at 11,139 tonight at 9:06pm. All things considered, pretty good for "unknowns" with an "old, tired company"