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December 14, 2016

HP: Still a font of talent after all these years

It's Wayback Wednesday, but the 3000's history recall has fresh entries from the current day. A lot of HP 3000 sites turned away from Hewlett-Packard's offerings over the last 15 years. But more than a few have not, even after three CEO ousters and a split up of the company into consumer and enterprise parts. There's still something in the split-off parts to admire. A new book chronicles lasting HP lessons to the industry players who are lapping HP today.

HewlettandPackardAmong the former: thousands of HP employees who've spent decades serving the HP customer. From engineering desk to conference presentation room, too many people to count or name have lifted the level of service. We heard from one today, Guy Paul, who once managed HP 3000s for the vendor and now is working on network storage for HP Enterprise. When asked what's remained stellar about the company where he's worked for 32 years, Paul pointed at people.

"The only thing that has remained that is good is the dedicated hard-working people I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from all these years," he said. He was compelled to add that many are leaving after the HP split up "and a merger all happening within one year." It's always been true that HP's loss of superior people is the industry's gain. So much of the 3000 independent enterprise earned its stripes by way of direct work with HP, too.

Some of that bounty has been released this week. A new management book might be cause for little celebration, but take a closer look at the new Becoming Hewlett-Packard. It was co-authored by a former top HP executive, Webb McKinney. He was interviewed eight years ago at the Minicomputer Software Symposium at the Computer History Museum. More than 20 of us were contributing 3000 stories at the Symposium, but the oral history McKinney gave at the Museum was even better. Best practices for the industry haven't changed that much since then. The HP book even makes a case for why the practices that have changed ought to change back. We're talking the HP Way here—although the book makes it clear that donuts are not a pillar of the Way.

In a great book review and summary at the MIT Technology Review, the HP Way is among four lessons Hewlett-Packard's departed leaders still offer for top movers of our current day.

Make sure “culture” is about values, not practices. HP’s founders created what became known as the HP Way in several ways. Examples include insisting that the company enter markets only where it could make a meaningful contribution of valuable technology; asking employees to take pay cuts in tough times to avoid layoffs; and fostering understanding and collaboration between all corners of the company. “Management by walking around,” they called it.

But as the years passed, many employees came to equate the HP Way with particular traditions, such as the daily doughnut breaks meant to encourage conversation, or the right of top performers to earn full product-and-loss authority over their own product groups. That last one became a huge problem for [former CEO] John Young, because building computer platforms requires development of hardware, software, and other technologies that are all interdependent.

The future leaders of today’s tech giants should be prepared for similar grumbling if they have gotten too many employees accustomed to such perks as on-site massages, laundry service, and climbing walls. Dropbox said in a filing this year that it spent $25,000 in perks on every employee.

McKinney took note of the software-hardware interdependence of the mid-1980s Hewlett-Packard. His story about the era when the 3000 was growing fastest includes references to the HP 150, PC software created to enhance the value of such hardware, and a multi-division company that was ready to roll out something way ahead of its time called NewWave for PCs.

He praised HP in that oral history interview and can help us see how people like Guy Paul were attracted to—and stayed with—the HP that was built upon the Way.

When HP got in the minicomputer business...there was the HP 1000 and the HP 9000 and the HP 3000 and the HP 250 and then it kind of got all sorted out and they said, “Oh, we need [to have] one architecture and we need to be able to market [a product line].” One of the interesting parts about HP is it's just a very creative place and somehow it gets rationalized in time and [inter-divisional] doesn't become a general problem.

The part of HP that was split off, PCs, took its first steps in HP as a product to sell to 3000 customers. McKinney explained that 3000 begat PCs at HP.

In the beginning of this period there was still a hope that we could build a proprietary architecture [PC] product. Now obviously, how you sell it was one of the issues. Well I think in the beginning the [market for our PC] was major accounts who were buying the HP 3000. This is a little bit like the saying: “when the only tool that you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.”

The 3000 was that hammer in an era where some top talent worked at Hewlett-Packard. It's refreshing to see that the subtitle of the new book is "Why Strategic Leadership Matters." The answer: you want to be around for decades making a difference and growing by 20 percent a year from 1958-1998. The HP of the Way did that and built the 3000, too.

07:02 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink

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