Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why join HP now?

One of the recurrent themes for me in “certain circles” is “why do you stay in touch at HP?”   Usually coupled with that snarky comment is an implication of “why would anyone stay at such a large, slow-moving dinosaur when there are plenty of exciting new companies around?”   “Certain circles” include many HP old-timers, longing for ‘the good ole days’ and bemoaning the litany of ills that have befallen their favorite old mistress, HP.  

Note that to ask, “WHY do you stay involved” is different than “HOW do you stay involved?”  WHY is that I still have a love affair with this company, I believe in their values and their ethics (once again, after a brief lapse under ‘other mgmt’) and their products and services.  And mostly, I still am stimulated by the folk I encounter who work there daily, who try and try and try some more.  You know, like it always has been.

And periodically, I get involved again, via one venue or another, with HP folk in some meeting or another.  These venues often, almost always in fact, infuse me with great enthusiasm and perspective for the company HP has become, even recognizing the difficulties and challenges that it faces today.

No better example exists for me than when I get a chance to interview ‘new folk’ who have recently joined HP.  Why did they decide to do so?   I mentioned this in the entry a few days ago; several have asked me for more details….  Hopefully, this will not offend anyone (did I worry about that when Dave Packard gave his Medal of Defiance award?); all names cited below are ‘public record’ including on their Facobook and LinkedIn pages as well as the HP Exec bio page.

Let me first of all observe that Meg (I presume it is Meg driving this) is intent on bringing in ‘winners’ to help the turn-around.   And the evidence is mounting….

Here are some tangible examples of ‘NEW HP people’ I’ve met in recent months:
1.     Barbara Adey, a senior executive for years at Cisco HQ, joined HP as VP of Business Development, three months ago, citing their momentum and desire for bringing change to underserved communications areas in her view.
2.     Melanie Tinto, brought in from a key leadership role—Global Talent Mgmt at WalMart—to be HP’s new VP of the Executive and  Leadership Training group—a role served well in HP’s early days, but bereft until Meg infused this group with new energy.
3.     Robert Youngjohns, SVP of HP Business Software (e.g. Autonomy), joined from a SVP role at Microsoft.
4.     Brad Johnson, VP of Corporate Strategy, focused on the Enterprise Group, joined from a long career at McKinsey, followed by a VP slot for an IPO at Freescale Semiconductor.
5.     Art Gilliland, SVP for SW Security, joined from Symantec where he’d been for seven of his fifteen years in the software security business.

All of these folk are with HP less than two years now; each was a world expert prior to coming to HP (i.e. they could have stayed in their last job, and/or could have found a great new opportunity at lots of places), and EACH CAME TO HP.  WHY?

Some even had to hurdle the high costs of the Bay Area housing market vs. say, Bentonville, Arkansas.  But they’ve come.

I won’t tell stories about any of them, but I will share one story from another who came.  This man had been at a large firm for many years, then became a VP at a smaller ‘nimble’ firm in a highly competitive field, where he headed a $400M, quite profitable, 600 person division.  

A relatively young and low-paid subordinate unfortunately was struck by cancer.  The group wanted to do something to help; the meaningful conclusion was that a maid service during recuperation would be of value, both for the reduced energy level and the need for antiseptic surroundings.  The business leader’s thought was that $1,000 for three months of maid service would be a generous gift, not a lot of money, but high on specific, emotional and motivational value.

$1,000 is not a lot of money, but he didn’t have a discretionary account for “miscellaneous expense.”  Which in itself said something about the constraints at many companies even for high-level executives.

He asked his controller how to do this—line item expense, or ???   The reply was, “see the HR person” whose reply was “see the SVP” who said “we have to talk to he CEO” who said “we need to ask the Board” which said “NO”.   So, he put a “donations” box in the HQ anteroom, and they quickly collected well over $1,000, none of it from anyone who’d been asked, “how can we do this?” 

It is not easy for me to imagine why the CEO felt that he had to ask the Board for permission to do something so trivial; did they really weigh in on such matters?  What a powerless CEO, would be my take. 

It is easy to imagine the reasons each level had for “why not” including setting a precedent, fairness to others, use of company funds for private tragedy as opposed to “attaboy” rewards.  We could go on and on… and maybe the donations route was the wiser choice all along.  But the upshot was when the next headhunter called, this person answered the phone with a “what are you offering?” instead of hanging up.

HP, I think, still has a heart—faintly beating, perhaps, but there are worse places.  And there are folk who believe enough to JOIN the battle to regain momentum.  MORE POWER TO ‘EM, I say.

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