April 2005

Step back onto your path toward success

NewsWire Editorial

Life offers a rich challenge when we try to reclaim success. Many of our readers are well along in their careers and can look back on accomplishments. This month I join you in such a challenge, along with HP’s new CEO. Whether you’re an IT pro who solved the mysteries of datacomm in the 1980s and now must learn Linux, a corporate executive hired to revive another computer icon, or a bike rider trying to complete another course of 100-plus miles, we all have an interesting spring before us.

That last one is me, of course. Since the spring of 2003 I’ve ridden in the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, a 120-mile charity ride to raise money for AIDS survivors. At the very end of this month I’ll be clipped into my pedals on my 27-speed Specialized Allez Comp, standing at the start line on what I hope will be a clear and cool Saturday morning.

The morning has been otherwise. Last year the rain started just as we pedaled off. Thunderstorms had cancelled the first day of our ride. We’ve had lots of rain in Texas this spring, but we’ve rescheduled and dodged the drops some mornings.

I’ve already had my success with this ride. In 2003 it was a 139-mile course, and my elderly bike had only 10 speeds. Just because I’ve enjoyed ride success since then doesn’t mean I’m not anxious about my latest attempt. I need help from others — my teammate Abby, who’s riding her first Hill Country Ride alongside me, the SAG and pit stop angels, my friends pushing their pedals on their bikes, and my sponsors and contributors.

Your course might look similar. You have built up a computer department from the days when they used to call it data processing, or when networks were called datacomm. You succeeded at building applications that still drive companies you left long ago. Or, like some, you’ve been climbing the tough hills of finding new work, starting over to learn something new. You might ask yourself why you have to pay those dues all over again.

In some ways, that’s the hill that HP’s new CEO starts to climb this spring. He’s already proved himself, pulling a grand old company where he’s worked for 25 years out of red ink. Mark Hurd was the right man for the job at NCR. Like you and I, he’ll have to pedal hard to replicate the success he’s already known.

NCR is now about the size that HP was when I started reporting on it in 1984. Hurd should enjoy his honeymoon. It looks like he won’t be so tempted to knock out the walls of his new computing home the way Carly Fiorina did.

He might help some HP customers forgive the company for quitting its legendary legacy business, the HP 3000. Customers held out hope when Carly arrived in 1999 that HP would treat the computer as more than a withered stepchild. That certainly didn’t turn out to be the case. This time the CEO arrives with a healthy appetite for vanilla, a flavor easy to attribute to the 3000. HP just isn’t a Gwen Stefani kind of company, deep in its soul. Maybe now it can put its pants on one leg at a time, instead of trying to merge itself into better business. It might be safe to start calling the company Hewlett-Packard once more. Perhaps Hurd can restore those words to the company’s logo. There’s been enough “invent” on HP’s underbelly to last another 66 years.

The stakes make such an effort matter. For Hurd, the jobs and careers of thousands of good people lie in the balance. A great company that lost its way over the last five years can reclaim the spirit that made it exceptional. That company still can help you as an HP 3000 owner, whether you’re moving off the system or sticking to what has made you successful. Some say that HP matters less every day to the 3000 community. That might be true in a year or so, but right now HP is deciding the fate of your operating system for mission-critical computers at your company. Mark Hurd could send a message that graceful exits make for happier computer owners.

For you, the stakes might impact your home, your savings, the legacy you leave to your family. One seasoned HP 3000 pro told me a story this month about his quest for work. A healthy client list from Y2K work dwindled to a single contract for several years. He spent his savings, cashed in his savings bonds, ran up his credit cards to the max. Applied to jobs across the country, all to no avail. When he’d filed for bankruptcy and tried to save his house, one last offer came in for a job, 125 miles from his home. He commutes between weekends. But he’s programming full time.

All that makes the challenges of two hard days’ of cycling seem tame in comparison. But the 300 of us who line up on that Saturday morning raise funds to help people with a killing disease. Our pain on the hills is nothing compared to surviving AIDS every day. We simply have to put on the spandex (quite a sight if you’re in your late 40s, like me) or lace on those riding shoes, and just show up.

It’s not easy to leave a company and a community where you and your family grew up, like Hurd is doing this month, and step into the hot spotlight of a company whose leadership is in disarray. That 125-mile drive to work every Monday morning has got to be tough, if you’ve already been good enough at the 3000 to consult for a living. The 120 mile course is not something we should think about all at once.

No, we all just have to show up and push the pedals to the next pit stop, one mile at a time, one work-week at a time. We can’t control the outcome of what we attempt, especially while we strive for success we’ve already tasted. In the Chinese book of wisdom Tao te Ching, we can all find a way to begin again at something we’ve already accomplished. “Do your work,” the book says. “Then step back — the only path to serenity.”

So show up with an open heart when you meet the challenge of change, the trials of transition. Remember that life is littered with unlikely outcomes. A friend of ours just got married for the first time. On Stan’s first wedding day he was 56. His tears of happiness sounded no less sweet because his course was lengthy. We are only entitled to our efforts, not the outcome, regardless of how long we’ve already been riding.

— Ron Seybold

Copyright The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.