Friday, March 12, 2010

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!

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