The (Forgotten) HP Way

Not too long after HP launched its tablet – HP TouchPad and its featherweight smartphone named Veer, came the shocking withdrawal of HP from the mobile computing space – HP TouchPad was a one-off act, and so was Veer.

HP was officially conceding defeat to Apple.

The bad news just didn’t end there – HP had decided to pack their PC business up. The Personal Systems Group (PSG) which, at $ 40 billion, was larger than many big companies, was going to be spun off. About nine years after HP and Compaq went through a merger that shocked many then, would be a demerger – perhaps a spin-off to Compaq as a separate entity.

It was on that day that I picked out David Packard’s inspiring book “The HP Way – How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company” for a re-read.

I still remember the day I had bought this book – I was an employee of HP, and a proud one at that. I took pride in HP’s culture, roots and the famed “HP way” notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the cultural goodness had been eroded by then, thanks to Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd’s years at the corner office.

The book is a beautifully narrated account of two men who – while just being good human beings – went to build one of the greatest companies on earth. In many ways, HP was the company that spawned the Silicon Valley as we know it. As some observers have noted, the spin-off of HP’s PC business and the stepping down of Steve Jobs as Apple CEO herald the end of the silicon era of Silicon Valley.

Through numerous anecdotes narrated in a somewhat dry style, Dave takes the readers through the story of how Bill and he built Hewlett Packard with core values of honesty, openness, flexibility, tenacity, and humanity. Being an HP alumnus myself, I realize sadly, that much of these values have now been eroded within the company.

If you are an entrepreneur, or even a manager, the book would be of immense value if you would kindly excuse the mechanically drab style of writing. This book does not aim for literary honors. It merely aims to offer a peek into the fascinating management practices that took HP from a Palo Alto garage to become such a strong force in the technology world.

To my manager at HP who had never heard of the book, let alone read it, and to anyone else who needs a reminder that running a business need not come at the expense of basic human values: please pick this book up, and give it a patient read.