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October 2001

Changing moments, lasting lifetimes

NewsWire Editorial

In an unexpected moment, our lives can change forever. I saw that moment pass more than once in September, on two Tuesdays which promised nothing unexpected. From a blockbuster merger my partner Abby and I traveled through a week of tragedy, punctuated by a bluff charge of a bull elk. Survival, a skill the e3000 community calls on frequently, lies at the heart of all three moments, a notice that our lives won’t ever be the same.

On the Tuesday that will be the most notorious in this span of our history, Abby and I were miles from news of the tragedy, but just a few feet from danger. A week-long vacation on the Pacific Coast left us far from the reach of the satellite-driven images of horror and non-stop Web updates of evil. We hiked in the Redwoods National Park through Fern Canyon on September 11, completely unplugged from the unnatural world.

After experiencing the rapture of 50-foot-high walls of maidenhair ferns, and grove after grove of ancient redwoods, we came face-to-face with a threat. A 400-pound bull elk met us on the trail, his second-year horns standing sharp and tall. He wasn’t backing up a step. That was our job.

After some heart-pounding minutes, including the bull’s bluff charge at Abby, the elk made his way ever-so-slowly down a steep ravine to graze. No one was gored, so nobody had to pack their partner out the three miles to the trailhead. It felt like one of the most real moments of our lives.

It was not the most surprising event of that day, of course. Once we returned to our room at the Lost Whale Inn, we were astounded to learn the World Trade Center was no more, and death lay deep in its rubble. We were spared the TV footage, hearing reports from other guests who’d had their radios on during that day. Words conveyed the horror aplenty.

Stunning developments held more than one place in HP customers’ lives last month. We awoke on the Tuesday before that one to learn that HP intends to purchase a company not much smaller than itself — a mega-merger that will change the landscape of lives, thousands of them, through layoffs. HP and Compaq CEOs did not flinch when announcing 15,000 job eliminations resulting from their deal. Analysts say that number is a cheerfully optimistic estimate, and I agree.

History makes a habit of overshadowing itself, as the events in the air and in HP’s boardroom proved last month. We had built our commerce around unfettered air travel and high-rise officing. Both took hits on September 11 which changed their value. It remains to be seen how much value will remain in an HP that’s determined to assimilate Compaq. At least your standard of value — the e3000’s reliability, efficiency and maturity — remains intact. Anyone who tells you otherwise, in any media outlet, is simply speculating at the expense of your sense of safety. Nobody knows what will survive in the new HP, not today. In the meantime you can take heart that a profitable business, like the e3000’s, has the means to survive a lot.

In the past weeks we’ve heard much about survival and heroism on a scale that dwarfs the machinations of large corporations. I was angry, like many others, and sad at the loss of life. That combination that has come to represent my feelings about the HP-Compaq merger, too. Analysts everywhere, and shareholders too, hate this deal, with plenty of reason. It’s an over-reaching grab toward a spot out of step with what HP does best: innovate and endure. Now it appears the company’s goals are to emulate and eliminate.

Why it’s happening is as difficult to comprehend as that bull elk’s rules on the trail. Anything can happen in such moments, as the passengers in the Pennsylvania hijacked jet proved. After these moments pass, the fear sets in, as we see how little control we exercise over our world.

Control, and to a large measure safety, are illusions we need and create for ourselves. Learning that not much is perfect has been a great lesson to me in recent years, a way to understand why there is no control to depend upon. The perfectly orchestrated morning of Fern Canyon beauty is paired with the bull elk’s life-threatening charge. A normal workday in Manhattan’s canyons becomes a stage for heroism and death.

Since we have so little control in our lives, we learn to cherish more modest goals. A good day’s work. The sunlight filtering through the blinds in the morning, as we lie next to someone we love. The taste of salt in the fog streaming off a coastline, listening to sea lions bark. The look of trust we can pass to another human’s eyes as we watch them protect us, doing their duty so we may feel safe and free.

The toll of the tragedy of last month is indelible, but I see growth and healing we can all build upon in uncertain times. Every relationship has potential for more meaning in our lives now, a chance to grasp its value before it may be gone. Your computer platform is built on lengthy, legendary relations. People stay in our 3000 world a long time. Those relationships can be something to count on in the months to come, while your computer supplier strives to marry a former rival. Take this time to look closely into the eyes of your partners and suppliers. You can see not much is changing, at least not yet.

September’s events proved you never know what’s going to be around the bend in the trail. The 3000 community joins the rest of HP’s product lines, all facing an unknown future, while HP and Compaq sort out this business they almost certainly will execute together. Enough time will pass to let the analysts’ outcries ebb and the shareholders’ scorn recede. What will remain is a corporate plan dearly, personally held by HP’s CEO. It’s not the first ill-advised counsel from HP’s corporate tower, standing far from the humble wisdom of the 3000 division. But as patient observers know, the 3000 community can outlast even the outlandish.

When we began publishing this newsletter, HP was actively advising its customers and staff that the end of the platform was not far away. Six years later this month the community is smaller, but stronger. On this anniversary, Abby and I give thanks that your faith met our hopes. There’s strength to be gained in such survival, vigor that customers and the loyal staff in the 3000 division may need in the months ahead.

Looking danger in the eye, then taking steps past it, was a powerful experience for many last month. Accepting the fact that change can sweep in on a moment can help us cherish the value of what remains around us. Value helped keep the 3000 community together in the times when we started the NewsWire, as customers reminded HP of their platform’s value. This month we Americans value our country more, too. In meeting a challenge to take something away — life or relationships — and facing it down, we find moments that fill our lives with meaning.

— Ron Seybold 


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