Thursday, December 15, 2016

Roy Clay with Dave Packard

One of the curious things about HP's entry into computing is that neither of the founders seemed particularly stimulated about being in that business.  It was the fastest growing, most 'high tech' of the businesses emerging after World War II, but HP assiduously avoided joining the fray.  It wasn't for lack of talent.  Doug Engelbart hired into HP in 1957, only to discover that Hewlett in particular and Barney Oliver (running HP Labs) weren't interested.  He quit the next day, and found work at what became SRI, where he pioneered much of the modern PC world, starting with the mouse and networks.

They nearly let Kay Magleby go, but by defining the first HP computer as an Instrument controller, Packard was appeased enough to let the project proceed.  Clay would run afoul of Hewlett on several occasions, one being Clay's penchant for playing early morning golf before coming to work.  As Clay told us two days ago, he liked a 6:00 or 6:30 am starting time, which allowed finishing by 9:30 or so, and getting to work by noon.  Hewlett was incensed when he learned from son Jim what they were doing.  Jimm working for Clay,  also liked golf as it turned out.   Vindication for Clay and his team came when one night about ten pm Hewlett's home machine failed, and they answered his call to the plant since they were still working.

Magleby and Clay would go on to hire Jimmy Treybig, Jim Kasson, Mike Green and others who later formed the Tandem founding team when Hewlett got nervous and cancelled the Holiday Inn order because it was "too much business and not enough scientific"

Top managers for the computer group at HP were on a merry-go-round.  First Bob Grimm, then  Jack Melchor, then Tom Perkins, then Clay on an interim basis awaiting George Newman, followed by Carl Cottrell and Bill Terry before Paul Ely--eight GMs in five years, a worse record than HP CEOs since Carly.   Magleby gave up when Perkins was hired; Clay gave up when Newman was hired.  Perkins started a fabulous VC firm when he left, and promptly hired all of Clay's team, using Clay as an advisor.  

Packard was away at the Defense department for President Nixon; when he returned,  he asked Clay to return to HP "to get us out of computing altogether"--this mere months before the disastrous HP 3000 introduction in autumn 1972.  When Clay refused, Packard wouldn't talk to him for five years.  And then Paul Ely proved to be the right selection, and the rest, as they say, is history.

No wonder these names aren't enshrined--HP for several years was just 'not sure' whether this was a good idea.  And the cultural clash was profound as well.  Years later, both Hewlett and Packard would agree that actually they were timid, to say the least--Packard volunteering, "Well, we didn't really louse it up too badly."  Small solace for those who worked so hard to make HP successful in this game.

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