Earlier this week, the Reverend Jesse Jackson made an appearance at Hewlett-Packard's annual shareholder meeting. He used the occasion of a $128 billion company's face-up to stockholders to complain about racial bias. In specific, Jackson complained that the HP board, by now, should have at least one African American serving on it.
HP's CEO Meg Whitman took respectful note of Jackson's observation, which is true. After 75 years of corporate history that have seen the US eliminate Jim Crow, and the world shun apartheid, HP's board is still a collection of white faces (10 of 12). Hewlett-Packard always had a board of directors, but it didn't become a company with a board in public until it first offered shares in 1958. We might give the company a pass on its first 20 years, striving to become stable and powerful. But from the '60s onward, the chances and good people might have been out there. Just not on HP's board, as Jackson pointed out.
But that story about the vendor who created your HP 3000s, MPE, IMAGE and then the systems to replace all, is incomplete. It's just one view of what Hewlett-Packard has become. In spite of Jackson's accurate census, it overlooks another reality about the company's leadership. HP has become woman-led, in some of its most powerful positions. Whitman had the restraint to not to point to that. But she's the second woman over those 75 years to be HP CEO.
Companies with potent histories like HP will always be in the line of fire of misunderstanding. The same sort of thing happed to Apple this week. This rival to HP's laptop and desktop and mobile space was inked over as a company still run by the ghost of its founder Steve Jobs. Like the Jackson measurement of HP's racial diversity at the top, the Ghostly Jobs Apple story needs some revisions. HP's got diversity through all of its ranks right up until you get to the director level. Given what a miserable job the board's done during the last 10 years, it might be a good resume item to say "Not a Member of Hewlett-Packard's Board."
Regarding Apple, the misunderstanding is being promoted in the book Haunted Empire. The book that's been roundly panned in reviews might sell as well as the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Issacson, but for the opposite reasons. Jobs' biography was considered a hagiography by anybody who disliked the ideal of Apple and "Computing for the Rest of Us." He indeed acted like a saint in the eyes of many of his customers, and now that very sainthood is being devolved into a boat anchor by the writer of Haunted Empire. It doesn't turn out to be true, if you measure anything except whether there's been a game-changer like a tablet in the past four years.
Similar things happened to Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard after Hewlett died in 2001, leaving HP with just the "HP Way" and no living founders. Whatever didn't happen, or did, was something the founders would've fought for, or wouldn't have tolerated. The Way was so ingrained into the timber of HP that the CEO who preceded Whitman, Leo Apotheker, imagined there might be a Way 2.0. Tying today to yesterday can be a complicated story. There was an HP Way 0.5, according to Michael Malone's history of HP, Bill and Dave.
And the term "Bill and Dave" is invoked to this day by people as disappointed in 2014's Hewlett-Packard as Jackson is impatient with its diversity. Like the Ghostly Apple story, WWBDD -- What Would Bill and Dave Do -- can be told with missing information. Accepting such missing data is a good way to show you know the genuine HP Way. Or if you care, the correct state of the Apple Empire.