Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Marc Andreessen -- the linchpin for the HP Board

Lots of speculation running through the Valley about HP's Board. The San Jose Mercury-News had two front-page stories on Monday, Labor Day, one about Hurd joining Oracle, and the other profiling Marc Andreessen, the 'high-tech heavy' on HP's Board. I had the distinct pleasure some years ago (maybe fifteen years, gawd is that possible?) to introduce Marc to Doug Engelbart. One was 24 years old at the time, a wunderkind for his Mosiac invention and Netscape company that ushered in the modern Internet with its exciting browser. The other was 74 years young, the almost forgotten creator of the PC / networking paradigm when he was at SRI in the mid-sixties. Each exclaimed at the time to the other, almost simultaneously, "I am so glad to meet you!!!"

Several of us managed to get Doug nominated the next year for the Lemelsen/MIT prize, at $500,000 the highest prize in America for scientific achievement. I hand-carried the nomination forms to MIT the last day of submission; Doug won handily for his 1968 "Mother of All Demos" that we profiled at Stanford on the 40th anniversary in December 2008 -- but the context was that until Andreessen's creation, the world had a hard time seeing more than a 'mouse' in Doug's contributions, so until the Internet 'exploded' in usage, Doug labored in obscurity except within our 'techie circles'. Once this happened, of course, he got acknowledged widely, including ACM's Turing Award and the Presidential National Medal of Technology.

Marc, for his part, lived through tumultuous times at Netscape, with noisome persona such as Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon doing battle called "the Browser Wars" with the Darth Vader from the North, Microsoft. The net result was a 1999 firesale (well, $4.2B) to A/OL, itself the darling and eventual casualty of the boom and bust.

Nearing forty, Andreessen has matured enormously. He has founded and led two other companies, restructuring one with considerable success that he later sold to HP. His positions on the Boards of Facebook, e-Bay and HP are worth a moment's consideration. We are in the midst of a profound restructuring of society, driven by Internet applications of every kind and description. The triangulation view that these three Board seats afford him has got to be pivotal for assessment, not unlike the view that Eric Schmidt got while seated on the Apple Board for several years. Marc also has a strong position at the Venture Capital table through his 'day job', seeing all manner of the 'newest ideas' that run rampant through Silicon Valley; he and his wife have a major commitment to social philanthropy as well, unusual (and incredibly commendable) at his age.

Andreessen, moreover, is one of the small minority of HP directors who came aboard without prior ties to Hurd; he is the only director who has worked in engineering or innovation in a direct way (unless I missed something in the other bio's). So we're pulling for you, Marc. Help 'em get it right this time...


Fred said...

There is a highly critical view of the HP Board in today's (9/11) business section of the NY Times. Some of the points are debatable but it does represent the perspective of a major newspaper.

chuck said...

Nocera has written another great piece re HP, this one about the Board. I'm not sure it represents the perspective of a major newspaper, but it certainly is the perspective of a major columnist for a major newspaper!

I find his points in general to fit the facts. Especially the one about not having the courage to fire him, or the one about putting no constraints on the payments that would have caused him pause.