Friday, March 12, 2010

the University of Illinois talk with Ray

For any who might be interested, the full 75 minute presentation at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, described earlier in February, is now available for viewing at

and what about HP alumni

I had lunch with Ken Tingley yesterday, a person not mentioned in the book. He said we met in Colorado Springs once, forty-four years ago when he was part of a Palo Alto review group and I was a presenter of some of the new displays. I didn't recall, but I had heard his name a number of times during interviews that we conducted for the book -- we just never followed up. He had been involved in HP from about 1958 through 1970 -- heydays, going from $30 million to $350M -- and he had managed International Sales as the international divisions were started, etc. He had some nice background stories, and some wonderful insights since he worked closely with Noel Eldred and the Executive team of the era.

But his chief question, at the end of an informative and pleasant luncheon, was "have you considered a book about the HP alumni?" The question he posed was a great one -- okay, this company had its great HP Way, and that turns out to have fueled the world's most consistent performing company in terms of revenue growth and consistent profitability -- how exportable was that ethos? The glib answer might say that those who left "didn't fit in" or didn't understand the HP Way, but that'd be a total cop-out. When you consider the top level management talent that was grown and nurtured at HP, and then left at the peak of their leadership days -- and we enumerated a number of them in the book -- how successfully did they take this semi-mystical methodology and culture into their next environment? If not, why not?

He named Eric Schmidt at Google, John Chambers at Cisco, Justin Rattner at Intel, Steve Wozniak at Apple, as a few who 'learned their views' at HP. I demurred, saying that each of these (and I'm not sure that they all WERE at HP to start) were only briefly at HP, and that'd be a hard thesis to defend. But certainly Rick Belluzzo, Doug Chance, Dick Hackborn's time at Microsoft, Tony Perez, and many others DID grow up in the HP milieu and did go on to lead other large companies -- how'd they do? And a number of others did startups, or near startups, such as Charlie Trimble, Bill Krause, Fred Gibbons, Ed McCracken. Tingley left HP to become CEO of Northern Tel, for example. And then a full career as a high-tech executive. How'd he feel about it? Like, this ethos was REALLY hard to transplant... and WHY could fill a volume.

It'd be a great question to examine -- another one of those Monograph opportunities!

surprises from readers

As I have mentioned before, many who first see the book say "wow, BIG, looks like War and Peace", but within fifteen minutes, say something like "but MY stuff isn't in here".... It is more interesting sometimes when "my stuff IS in here, but you got it wrong". Fortunately, we haven't had too many of the latter kinds of responses, although to be sure, I always felt when journalists covered an event for which I was a participant, that I wished I'd been at the same event they describe.

But of late, three "communities" have apparently 'ramped up' purchases, and hence readership. One is the Colorado Springs contingent, where I spent about sixty percent of my HP time; another is Boise, Idaho, the home of Dick Hackborn for the past thirty-four years (and hence the 'capital' of HP Peripherals); and a third is the CAE groups (IC Test, Board Test, PC Test, SESD, CAD tools for ME, etc.) where I spent nearly a decade.

Colorado Springs folk -- such as John Riggen, Hal Edmondson, Gene Warrington, John Strathman, Dave Dayton and many others -- have been surprised by how little of the 'Springs history (their history really) was described. My 'defense' has been of two forms -- first, I wanted to be careful that this book was not an autobiographical account, and a lot of my own career was intertwined with events there, so it would be hard not to mix it up pretty good; second, the Springs mostly was organized for a long time around oscilloscopes, not exactly HP's most shining star. To emphasize a relatively negative chapter of HP when so much was positive, especially a chapter that is a footnote to the "main story" seemed somehow inappropriate. My assessment currently is that a wonderful monograph awaits, that would capture a blended history of these tools that really ushered in the digital age, along with the historical figures who led for so long.

The Boise folk, a proud and extremely successful group on balance over many years, give perspective something like "DMD (Disc Memory Division) was once both the fastest growing and the largest single division of HP; it got extremely short shrift in the book". Or "Boise Printer Division was mostly Big Printers, and you mostly tell the story of Small Printers -- and Enterprise Printing was and is strategically valuable for HP". Or, you tell the stories of each with just a few personalities, not really the key people (or at least ALL the key people). Other views include the notion that the Peripherals Group was under-described, not just Boise, for its many contributions and magnitude in HP history from a revenue, profit, and growth momentum standpoint. A fair assessment. Again, my feeling is that this could be a powerful monograph -- HP often dominated markets (e.g. Digital Voltmeters, Spectrum Analyzers, even Logic Analzyers), but there is something awesome about a company that goes up against the world's largest most successful companies (IBM, Xerox, Canon, Konica) and takes a 50% share or more for two decades. HOW in gawd's name could this be possible? Doesn't happen in cars, planes, or candy bars, and didn't last much longer in CPUs.

The CAE groups look in vain for much description of their long sojourns, again feeling that they pioneered many incredibly valuable contributions for the discipline as well as HP. True enough, but again, this never became the field for which HP was noted, all due respects. And again, my story is intertwined, so to some degree we felt as authors that this was too loaded with our own bias to tell with much depth. Here too, a monograph awaits, but it might better prove to be the story of the field and its impact on designs everywhere rather than an HP story (personal view).

These have been interesting critiques, extremely valid perspectives, and things that were "on our mind" but for various reasons, the choices we made were not as fulfilling for folk in these areas. Our apologies -- but as Joan Didion told us, "let them write their own book"...