No, I’m not talking about me and my buddy Bill, but instead a biography by Micheal S. Malone titled, Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company.
This biography of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the founders of HP, might not be among your first choices when perusing the shelves of our learning center. At over 400 pages of fairly small type, this is a pretty heavy read, and although it can get a bit dry in its detailed history of the exciting world of oscillators and instrumentation, it really is a compelling story.
I read this book back in the summer. I chose it based on my general interest in learning more about how Bill and Dave created and ran such a great, sustainable business and because I assumed insights from HP’s history may provide helpful guidance as we grow and diversify our business. This book delivered on both fronts. In fact, you could say it delivered on three major fronts in all, since it was a nice mix of company history, technology/innovation, and business strategy.
A couple quotes from Hewlett and Packard stood out to me as we determine our Next Next Thing:
“Never try to take a fortified hill, especially if the army on top is bigger than your own.”
“To challenge an industry standard, it is not good enough to be just as good – you have to be much better.”
A few of the more interesting facts, stories, and coincidences throughout the book:
- Bill and Dave happened to meet in 1930 on the Stanford practice field during tryouts for the football team (Bill didn’t make the team, but Dave went on to be a star of the team, as well as a standout in track and basketball as well. Dave eventually gave up most sports to focus on his academics.)
- Their mentor, Fred Terman (whose father invented the IQ test), suffered from tuberculosis. He moved to Stanford University to work as a professor because the cold, wet weather at MIT in Boston made his TB worse. If it weren’t for the weather advantage in Palo Alto, the three men would have never met. Together they were instrumental in turning Stanford University from a party school for rich kids into one of the world’s preeminent institutions.
- They gave a new meaning to being a responsible corporate citizen. Bill left HP for a few years to serve as an officer in the US Army during World War II; Dave served as US Deputy Secretary of Defense; both gave considerable money to their alma mater; and through the Packard Foundation, Dave turned the Monterey Bay Aquarium into one of the top marine research institutes in the world.
- HP is credited with several innovations beyond their technology products. (But speaking of technology, Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, is often credited with inventing the modern day personal computer while working at HP before venturing out with Steve Jobs.) HP was the original business in the Stanford Industrial Park (the first research park of its kind, now emulated around the world at places like the Research Triangle in NC). Through a significant focus on a unique company culture, known as The HP Way, they pioneered concepts such as flex time and 10% innovation time. In fact, they are even credited with founding what is now known as the Silicon Valley. The garage where they worked during the early years of HP on Addison Avenue in Palo Alto is designated with a historic marker that reads, “Birthplace of the Silicon Valley.”
- We take the calculator for granted, but it was big business in the middle part of the twentieth century. In fact, the HP-35 and HP-65 are in the Smithsonian based on their contribution to computing and business. Also, as legend has it, in order to fund the initial startup of Apple, Jobs’ sold his van and Wozniak (co-founder) sold his prized possession, an HP-65 calculator (which retailed for $695 at the time).
- Amazingly, Packard and Hewlett remained responsible for the day-to-day operations of HP from 1939 at its founding until 1977 when it was making $1.4 billion in revenue (when $1 billion actually meant something…) and 35,000 employees.
If any of the above catches your attention, you might want to check out this book, regardless of how thick it looks…