After graduating as electrical engineers from Stanford University, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard became close friends during a two-week camping trip on Mount Owen. It wasn’t long after that the two would continue a life-long trip to build a Silicon Valley legend. Today – September 7th – Dave Packard would’ve been 100 years old. For the occasion, it seemed only appropriate to give a couple quick highlights on what he helped create….and the kind of guy he was to his employees. So consider this post a quick tribute to a life well-spent.
When HP started out, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard took on all sorts of odd contract jobs—Harmonica tuners, a clock drive for a telescope, automatic toilet flush sensors for Stanford…but one of the first tech support calls that Packard made for the company – about 70 years ago – was for a bowling alley. The foul line indicator Hewlett and Packard created wasn’t working properly. But there was Dave, sleeves rolled up, troubleshooting. (They even built a shock machine to help people lose weight.)
Bill and Dave worked out of a rented garage at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto with $538 in working capital – and a used drill press. And a business plan? As Bill Hewlett put it years later, “When I talk to business schools, occasionally the professor of management is devastated when I say we didn’t have any plans when we started. The idea of having a business came [years] before our invention of the audio oscillator. We were just opportunistic. We did anything to bring in a nickel….trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do. So we got into this not by design but because it worked out that way.” And the company could have just as easily been called “Packard-Hewlett,” but the HP was decided with a coin flip.
· HP invents the first desktop personal calculator – technically the first PC – in 1968
· The HP-35 calculator – the world’s first scientific calculator – gets introduced in 1972
· HP’s first PC, the HP-85, shows up in 1980
· HP introduces the world’s first touch-screen computer in 1983, the HP-150
· ThinkJet and LaserJet printing take off in 1984
· HP creates RISC architecture in 1986
· ….you get the idea.
I recently asked HP’s Kevin Wentzel if he had any stories that illustrate the kind of person Dave Packard was to his employees. Now, mind you, Kevin was only beginning his time at HP, but here’s what he had to share: “I’m sitting at my cubicle in bldg. 44 in the Cupertino offices. Someone looks over the wall and asks directions to a conference room. That someone was Dave Packard. He, of course, asked me how things were going and after a very short conversation was on his way. (The key to this story was that we had a billionaire CEO and company founder who’d been an assistant secretary of defense in government but was wandering the building on his own and stopping to talk with employees – that is the kind of people Bill and Dave were!)”
In researching the man, though, I found this quote that above all else speaks volumes about the person Dave Packard was: “I think that many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper to find our real reason for being… A group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company… to do something worthwhile—to make a contribution to society. The real reason for our existence is that we provide something which is unique.”
Dave retired from HP in 1993, wrote The HP Way in 1995 and passed in 1996 at the age of 83. Here we are, 100 years since the day he was born, with his company still making unique products that help define new categories and touch many people’s lives.