Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lunch with Paul Ely

I got a call from Paul Ely the other day, and he invited me to lunch at the Sharon Heights Golf Club to talk about his reaction to my "Secret Sauce" lecture which is still posted on the MediaX website

He focused on several elements -- one was the 15% "breakthrough ideas" funding; another was the role of the Silicon on Sapphire and the Gallium Arsenide work for HP leadership in microwave communications, followed by LEDs, and inexplicably but vastly important in inks for the later Inkjet business.

He also spent some time on The HP Way, and how he thought it emanated from the founders; he put a reverent, almost religious, tone on it, while agreeing that he never heard them talk in such terms, but clearly they were enlightened in terms of the dignity of EVERY individual who worked for the company. This is not to be confused with "soft-headed" management; we both had no trouble agreeing that they were very hard-headed business guys who set an absolute standard of excellence for work done.

Paul, in my view, was the ONE cog in a long pantheon of HP folk without whom there clearly would not be an HP today in computing. Birnbaum later would provide the competitive strategy that worked for enterprise activities; it would not have been possible or needed without Paul's pioneering leadership. Great to meet a legend, and hear his considered opinion.

SIRS lecture yesterday

I had a great invitation to give a luncheon talk about the forthcoming book yesterday, to the "Sons in Retirement" group in Mountain View, CA. These folk, some 225 strong, are all retired by definition, and for the most part, they looked older than I feel. Although truth be known, I couldn't hardly see them; my eyes were dilated from an earlier visit to a Vitroretinal specialist (good guys to know if you have my problem, but better if you never need to know them).

I held forth for a half-hour, mostly reminiscing about "the origins of Silicon Valley" and filling in gaps for them that the Steve Blank lecture from a year ago managed to omit. Key things like the correlation between the US Forest Service, Cyril Elwell, and the use of short-wave Poulsen transmitters that GE and Marconi wanted "removed from service". The US Navy commandeered all radio manufacturers during WWI, and allowed GE to persuade the US govmt to set up RCA in 1919, and withhold returning assets to the West Coast companies for another two years.

The HP early years, especially the General Radio vs HP evolution, was a fun topic; some of the people were old enough to have been there...

I did manage to irk some ex-IBMers in the crowd apparently; during Q & A, one challenged me saying that IBM earns double the profits of HP. My rejoinder was, perhaps, unkind, citing the recent Biz Week article which noted that IBM has been specifically unfriendly to Americans and hardly worthy of its heritage by spending $73 billion on stock buybacks, creating 133,000 jobs abroad, and jettisoning 36,000 US jobs in the past eight years. Probably shouldn't have been so chary, but it certainly doesn't fit the "citizenship" or "community service" instincts that HP (and IBM) so long espoused. Dunno why I keep beating this dead horse...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Data Visualization

One of the original hallmarks of HP was its "measurement capability". To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To HP, everything looked measureable. So, whether it was atomic physics, chemical analysis, ink composition, or inventory items, HP engineers (and recall that virtually all salespeople were engineers at the time) thought in terms of measuring quantities of things, sizes of things, rates of change, productivity measures, and so forth. This still prevails, as any deep discussion with Ann Livermore's Services teams will quickly reveal (even the EDS acquisition folk are sometimes heard to talk this way).

Enter "data Visualization". You've all seen, perhaps played, the Flight Simulator software packages, and I'm sure that you're aware that all jet pilots in training now learn in simulators (even the hijackers, training in Miami). No one would send a would-be pilot up in the sky to "shoot touch-and-go" with a new Dreamliner, or even a 747. And, thankfully, no one would demand of an erstwhile pilot that he or she solve the calculus equations of landing safely.

And some pretty cool math packages now exist, for PCs and Macs, and even graphing software for HP and TI handheld calculators. By the way, did you know that the HP-12C functions can be bought for the I-Phone now, for a cool $1?

But, we don't teach "mapping" or "data visualization" or any of these "intuitive" tools until or unless you're a math major, well down the road of arcane statistical analysis. Why not? Why shouldn't these be the tools of junior high school kids, alongside algebra and geometry, etc. These tools will be far more useful for citizenry in the 21st century than trig or calculus. Try that idea on your local school board!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Objective Seven -- Community

Dinner last weekend with two HP VPs and two other long-term HP veterans -- 116 years of total service between them. Three of the four argued that HP still had plenty of enthusiasm and dedication, and that the HP Way was alive and well in groups where their leadership was "old school" or simply enlightened and bought into the HP Way as long practiced.

All four, however, reported independently that the image of HP being the leading corporate citizen in the community, long a cherished hallmark of the company, has dried up in the current regime. Carly, they averred, was as strong on that as Lew or even Dave; not so under Hurd.

At a key Foundation meeting in Chicago two weeks earlier, I was astonished and saddened to hear the perspective of leadership at the Gates, Ford, Kauffman, Knight, and MacArthur Foundations, not to mention the Tiger Woods, Carlsen, and other smaller foundations share their feelings about HP absentee-ism for the topic of science and math education in America. They were outspoken about their perception that HP only cares about sales, and ties corporate giving to "deals" at best these days.

Moreover, the considered opinion was that nine of the top ten high-tech firms in America (and recall that HP is now THE top high-tech company on the globe) have their CEO or Chairman or both involved enough in STEM education to be carried on the front pages of the Wall St Journal while HP "stands aside". What the hell has gone wrong at this place? Is the new guy in touch with anything besides the bottom line?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Other featured folk

The HP/Agilent names index has 404 names cited, and this is without noting a sizable number of HP Journal authors cited in the notes sections. So, to some degree, the book celebrates lots of HPites. In addition to the ten folk listed in the last post, there are five other Senior VPs cited on 25 pages or more, another five with 20 pages or more, another eight with 15 pages+, and yet another seven with 10+ pages. So, all told, 35 folk have at least ten pages of their HP career outlined herein. Odds are, you've find someone you know in this list!

And, just think, there are only another 482,000+ HP / Agilent employees and alumni whose stories are not included, that we might try to capture through a Forum...

Some featured folk

In the foreword, six CEO's (2 founders, 2 insiders, 2 outsiders) are mentioned, along with four others (2 R&D leaders, 2 business leaders) who had differential impact on the evolution of HP. Interestingly, to me at least, while other books about HP have included nearly every CEO (some with pretty pointed perspective), virtually none have featured the other four in any depth if at all. Yet it is very clear to any who lived the HP experience that Barney Oliver, Joel Birnbaum, Paul Ely, and Dick Hackborn each had unusually huge impact on the evolution of HP. So from that perspective alone, this book will enrich our understanding of how HP evolved so strongly into the sciences, and then into computing, and later into printing and imaging.

At the same time, this is not to celebrate (only) these individuals, but merely to make it clear that leadership happens at a lot of levels besides the CEO

Monday, August 3, 2009

Agilent and Varian

Last week, Agilent announced intent to buy the Life Sciences portion of Varian, one of the three strands of the original Varian Associates, now fifty-some years old. The San Jose Mercury-News carried a nice story in the Sunday edition, describing some of the long history between the two companies.

The ties, of course, were strong and deep. The Varian brothers were friends with Bill n Dave; Dave was on their Board for many years. Varian was the first company into the Stanford Industrial Park; HP second. Terman was on both Boards. Packard's first "company acquisition" was buying the microwave components segment of Varian in the early 1950's when they moved into NMR (later MRI).

The story did not mention that HP Cupertino began as a Varian site, and when Varian had cash flow problems in the 1970-71 recession, HP bought the site from them for $5M (their asking price), which has been a pretty good purchase, all things considered.

Nor did it mention that much of HP's early semiconductor leadership came from Varian as well, and even the Computer History Museum in its celebration of the 50th year since Fairchild's planar transistor has to date omitted HP's singinficant contributions in this sphere. Does anyone care?

getting out of the penalty box

A reader sent a note this morning, remarking on one of Packard's famous diatribes -- "the Give 'em hell" talk circa 1974. According to the reader's recollection, Packard publically described inappropriate behavior, having to do with putting HP in debt, to a couple of key managers. Later, one became CEO, and the other ran the computer group successfully for years. The question was -- how rare was this, to get out of the penalty box? And does the forthcoming book have some more stories of this type?

I personally experienced this, in an event later given a positive credit via "the Medal of Defiance". It surely didn't feel like a medal at the time!

But of course there are a ton of such stories. We're wrestling with how to collect more of these stories, for in many ways this is the clearest expression of THE HP WAY -- go ahead, make an error, one big enough to get noticed and even singled out for "stupidity" as Obama might say, and then tell how/whether you got back into "good graces". Or, you never did, which makes for a different story