The life and works of David Packard were celebrated last night. The event, part of an extended exhibit of the Los Altos History Museum celebrating the lifelong partnership of David and Lucille Packard, featured a panel of five early HP employees (their combined service totaled 294 years! One of them had started at HP in 1942!!) and was moderated by Chuck House, a long-time senior HP exec for whom I worked at another company post his time at HP.
A number of funny stories about Packard were told, many of them emphasizing his down-to-earth nature. For example, when the company finally listed on the NYSE, Packard suggested the company attendees for the listing ceremony travel from the hotel to the exchange via the subway. At the transfer point, an argument broke out among the party’s members about which train to take, which (inevitably) resulted in the group taking the wrong one and arriving at the office of the President of the NYSE late. Packard apologized and told him that they had gotten lost on the subway. The fellow laughed heartily, thinking that Packard was covering up for being late by joking about the fact that his party actually took the subway. (And, by the way, a measure of Carly Fiorina’s unpopularity was illustrated by one of the members of the panel then noted that had the group going to the exchange been headed by Fiorina, they probably would have taken a bunch of limos — this from someone who probably had left HP by the time she arrived; it showed me how her style grated on people used to “the HP Way”).
A couple of stories were told that demonstrated Packard and the HP Way (btw, Hewlett was also mentioned, but was not focused on since the event was celebrating Packard). One was that one of the panel members thought an attenuator part HP was manufacturing internally could be sold externally (this was around 1952, if I recall the story told last night). He was told to forget it, there was no market. He then noted that he got the part put into the catalog anyway. Someone then asked how HP ended up selling the part and he said that it was still being sold in the HP catalog!
My favorite story was by House. He was working in a division that had a product under development that wasn’t going very well. Packard showed up, reviewed its progress, and thundered “the next time I come here I don’t want to see that product in the lab.” House got the bad news from his boss the following day and responded “how about if we put it into production?” They did and things progressed. The next time Packard showed up, he thundered “I thought I told you to kill that product!” To which House replied, “No, you said you didn’t want to see it in the lab. It’s not in the lab anymore.” Far from being fired, House went on to a successful career, illustrating how Packard (and HP) supported guerrilla products.
What came through all of the evening’s comments was the affection and respect the panel and audience members have for Packard and HP. I have to say that it was palpable, and also brought to my mind whether we’re likely (or even possibly) going to see the same combination of business acuity and humanity in a group of Silicon Valley company founders in the future. I’m not sure, but think we’ll
be the poorer for it not happening.