by Don Kazak
When Stanford graduates David Packard and William Hewlett started working in a Palo Alto garage together more than 50 years ago, they didn't have grandiose plans. "We didn't have the slightest idea of how big (Hewlett-Packard) would become," Packard remembers. "We just wanted to have jobs for ourselves."
The world was far different back in 1938. The United States hadn't recovered yet from the Great Depression, World War II hadn't started, and if you wanted to start a successful company you figured out a good product and hired the best people you could find.
The latter still holds true, even if almost everything else has changed in the meantime.
The HP co-founders met with a dozen reporters May 22 at Packard's Los Altos Hills home to talk about the early days and answer questions. The occasion was the recent publication of "The HP Way," a book by Packard detailing the early days and philosophy of the company.
While the Palo Alto computer and medical instruments company has come far from that modest beginning in a Palo Alto garage, it was the company's philosophy--the "HP way"--handed down to employees, which seemed to make the company different and contribute to its success.
That philosophy calls for involvement in the community and a commitment to workers as much as to shareholders, which are not radical ideas today but which were all but laughed at 50 years ago.
In the first decade or so, the HP way could take hold because Packard and Hewlett knew everyone in the company. "We had fewer than 300 people the first 10 years," Packard said. "We knew everyone. That helped develop the HP way."
Both founders have been retired from the company for some time now--Packard and Hewlett are both 82 years old. But Packard still has his no-nonsense, right-to-the-point way of talking, and Hewlett still has his sense of humor and gleam in his eye.
Building a Hewlett-Packard today would be different, and the company might turn out differently, both men admitted. When they started, they built slowly, with the company expanding as more products were made and more of them sold.
Hewlett and Packard didn't have to go into enormous debt to start the company.
Nowadays, start-ups are funded by debt and venture capital, not company earnings. "Now you have to have a million-dollar capability to even start," Packard said.
"You pay a price when you go the venture capital route," added Hewlett. "We grew over 50 years."
Both men gained great wealth from the success of the company, and have used it widely in philanthropic ways through their two family foundations and the host of education and health-related programs and activities the foundations sponsor.
They have also both contributed substantially to Stanford University to rebuild many of its science and engineering buildings, while the Packard family was the principal donor leading to the construction of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Lucile is David's late wife.
While Packard has a large computer in his personal study, he revealed that he still writes letters the old-fashioned way, by hand. A long time ago, he said, he used to visit former President Herbert Hoover in New York City, where Hoover lived. Hoover was a longhand letter-writer too, Packard said, never even using dictation.
Packard may write his letters with a pen and paper, but he knows the importance of computers. "It's hard to know where it's all going to end," he said. "Who's going to use all these computers? People all over the world who aren't on board yet."
Both Packard and Hewlett think that the technology of the 21st century is going to be produce innovations we can barely dream about now. The advances in genetic medicine, on the one hand, and integrated circuits, on the other, could result in programming genes or intelligent computers, Packard said.
The information highway is fine, he added, but the future "is going to be something much, much more than that."
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