Silicon Insider: Remembering the HP Way

I just got a reminder of what true corporate greatness looks like.

Ever since Mark Hurd arrived to untangle the mess he inherited at Hewlett-Packard Co., there has been a concerted effort to rekindle the legendary HP Way culture. His unmissed predecessor, Carly Fiorina, did a pretty good job of destroying this legendary culture at the company during her quest for personal glory … to the point that even the few survivors of the old days can barely remember what it was like to work for the company once-considered the most enlightened on the planet.

Shrewdly, Hurd realized that there yet remained one last, though diminishing, repository of the HP Way: the company's retired, but still loyal, employees. If their memories could be tapped, perhaps the HP that was lost could be recovered.

Toward that end, even as he was developing a whole new strategy for the company, and racing from division to division around the world restoring morale, Hurd redoubled the company's efforts to restore the fabled Packard garage in Palo Alto (the birthplace of the tech revolution) and to create a video about Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard as described by the men and women who knew them.

This week saw the unveiling of both.

Remembering a Lost World

Last spring, I was invited to HP (where I'd been unwelcome during the Fiorina years) to be interviewed for what was planned to be a low-budget collection of interviews of HP veterans. It proved to be a leisurely morning -- and I soon forgot all about it.

Then, just a couple months ago, I was called again, this time by an award-winning television producer. HP top management had seen the clips -- and been so struck by the lost world described by company veterans that it decided to invest in a full-blown production that could be a cornerstone of the company's renewal.

With a dozen or so others, I was invited back (properly dressed to match the images of six months before) and peppered with more questions. This time I was more prepared, having in the interim signed a major book contract to tell the story of Bill and Dave.

After many years in television, I was pretty used to the camera. But what I wasn't prepared for was the feeling I got walking back into Hewlett-Packard after all these years. As a reporter, I'd covered thousands of companies, but HP was unlike any other. It wasn't just a company, but a glimpse of what a company should be. And if the HP I visited that day wasn't the one I left 25 years before, I could still feel the old resonances, and a growing sense that the company was trying to find its way home.

Feeling Nostalgic, and a Little Old

Monday I attended the video's premiere, held for company veterans at a restaurant near Stanford University. For me, it was like that moment at the end of Proust when Marcel arrives at a party full of the people he's always loved and admired … and suddenly realizes that everyone is 80 years old.

In fact, of all the retired and former HPers in the room, Steve Wozniak and I were the youngest -- and we're both gray-haired. All of the rest were in their 70s and 80s -- the men and women who were hired by Bill and Dave in the 1950s and 1960s, who made the HP Way real, and who, though largely uncelebrated by history, helped define the modern world.

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