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Business Lessons from HP History

HP people talk frankly about what went right – and what went wrong – as this continuous startup grew rapidly for decades.  Updated September 11, 2017.

(Also see our directory of Books about HP -- many by former employees.)


Dave Packard talks to HP managers about basic business principles (1974)

After a disappointing year in 1973, Packard embarked on a series of talks to groups of managers. "...they show an 'unvarnished' Packard -- with his temper up, his irritability clearly in evidence, and his motivational juices flowing... The impact of these talks was immense and immediate." http://www.hpalumni.org/PackardAnalyzesFinancialReport.pdf includes Dave Kirby's background note and typewritten transcripts of two meetings. [Thanks to member Leo Forget.]  

"For some reason, we've got this talking about one of our objectives is to increase the share of the market... it leads you to the wrong kind of decisions ...we have a rather significant share of the market in CATV amplifiers, and we'd be just a hell of a lot better off if we hadn't ever touched that business and if our share was zero."

"...I don't understand why the hell we have finished goods inventories going up 49% when we had sales going up only 38%... What the hell are we keeping all this goddamn stuff in finished inventory for?"

"...if you've got to price your products too low to generate a profit to get an adequate level of business, you're making the wrong product..."

"...we found around the company there are all kinds of things that people just didn't know about -- and you can't manage something if you don't know about it."

"...a growth company is not growing in size; it's growing in earnings potential..."



- Al Bagley: Managing creativity and innovation. Promoting values in a fast-growing company.

- Carl Cottrell: "I had to start doing some technical homework Recovering from slipping quality with a management breakthrough. Building a European sales channel. A strict no-discount policy. Developing a new sales process for a radically different product line

- Bob Grimm: Management pioneer and civic volunteer hero.

- Chuck House: Engineering politics – management, customers, and engineering teams.

- John Minck: Product strategy developed by the product teams. Nurturing a culture of creativity. "An acrid ball of smoke rose from the machine" -- How to bury one of the CEO's pet projects.

- Marv Patterson: How do you make a product bigger? First, saw a prototype in half. Controlling feature creep. Troubleshooting a disastrous failure. How to test market a new product. Breaking a hiring freeze to acquire talent. Eliminating jobs with kindness -- "just high enough to keep me out of jail." Changing behavior in R&D labs. How Packard evaluated all departments at Corporate. Starting a consulting company.

- Ray Smelek: Management; opening new operations overseas; growing successful leaders.

- Alan Steiner: The magic of bringing development engineers on customer visits. Managing a very successful product line that doesn't fit with the rest of the company.

- Cort Van Rensselaer: Packard's fairness to an 18-year-old student. The crucial role of professional salespeople. Stand-alone product divisions. "The wham-bam fast move was wrong." "Many companies under those circumstances would just say bye-bye." The HP style of long-range planning. Innovating in internal use of computers. Debugging the HP 3000.

- John Wastle: Selecting the supplier you trust. Getting the financial folks on your side. A good idea that stemmed from a cultural faux pas.



- John Borgsteadt: "Bill Hewlett showed up, standing behind me and watching me, while I was frustrated with an uncooperative batch of instruments. He thought for a bit, and asked if I had a piece of cardboard handy..." The power of helping your customers make the best use of your product.

- Dave Evans: Doing the right thing for the customer: "The Field Engineer was so angry with me he didn’t even say goodbye." Process Paralysis: "Some products had even been developed clandestinely."  Be part of your customers' world: If your customers have a trade association, convention, or standard-setting body -- become a key participant.

- Betty Haines: New employee, not recognizing Packard, makes flippant suggestion -- which he implements. The power of a live, company-wide profit-sharing announcement.

- Dave Kirby: Master communicator who nurtured the HP Way by putting it into words.

- James Robinson: Installing, dismantling, moving – "The Best Job I Ever Had."

- George Stanley: Master teacher – Sales force out of date? Retrain them.



- Les Besser: Father of microwave computer-aided-design.

- Chris Clare: The immense power of using well-thought-out measurement and analysis to figure out how things really work -- and then invent practical solutions. His work ranged from determining why certain types of keyboard are better... through inventing systems to automatically control hundreds of parameters in IC processes -- including the development of industry-wide standards. Along the way, Chris also developed and taught a crash course in digital design to hundreds of HP engineers all over the world -- helping launch the digital era at HP.

- Dave Cochran: How the blockbuster HP-35 handheld came about.

- Jerry Collins: Pioneering the control of test equipment with computers.

- Bob DeVries: Successful products are easy to use. Turning points in work and life.

- Zvonko Fazarinc: Successes – and missed opportunities – at HP Labs.

- Art Fong: Adventures of the engineer who created many of HP's most successful products.

- Jim Hall: The difficult route to the LaserJet's "overnight success."

- Ed Phillips: Overcoming challenging design issues.

- Ted Podelnyk and Bernie Clifton: Color LaserJet. "...didn't realize the magnitude of the effort they were undertaking."

- Bob Steward: LEDs, ThinkJet, Agilent, Lumileds.

- Hank Taylor: Information technology visionary.

- John Uebbing: "Mr. HP Optoelectronics."

- Hugo Vifian: "Mr. Smith Chart" – microwave design engineer.


More on the human side of HP. 

In addition to the employee memoirs listed above, the HP Memory Project site also includes sections on:

- HP People Stories -- including “Bill & Dave” stories.

- Other HP Writings -- interesting and unusual projects, happenings and events.



Developed, edited, and introduced by John Minck.

On the late Marc Mislanghe's personal HP Memory Project site, which is now operated by Ken Kuhn.


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