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March 2005

Meet change with eyes open, face to face

NewsWire Editorial

Last month I faced another where-were-you moment on a windy Wednesday, that February afternoon when I learned HP had fired its CEO. The event stood up as a bookend to another crucial day in the HP 3000’s transition, the Wednesday in 2001 when I learned HP was leaving another kingpin behind: Its HP 3000, crown jewel of its rise in systems, the company’s first computer hit.

I remember where I was in 2001. At a train station in Switzerland, I heard the news about the 3000’s demise at HP. I was on a brief, late-fall vacation with my son Nick to celebrate his completed Americorps service. It was well into the dark of a rainy night in Lausanne when my partner Abby relayed the news HP had given us, one week before the story would go public on the next Wednesday. I stared at the green Swiss telephone in the cramped booth while I tried to imagine a future without HP in the 3000’s world.

More than three years later I heard about Carly’s ouster from Chris Gauthier, once the heartbeat of the Web site and a man who had loved the 3000 for all of his adult life. On that February day I’d been away from the Internet, just like my moment in the rail station. HP delivered both of these bolts while I was recharging.

The pair of departures shine out as faces of change in our lives with HP. In 2001 an army of the 3000’s faithful could hardly believe their server’s life was changing for good. The troops who remained behind Fiorina last month may have felt as dismayed, though many more cheered.

It’s easy to find the similarities of the two days: reports by phone, delivered by people who love the 3000’s community, about a change in HP’s future. Carly’s firing made me measure the differences over those three-plus years. Change shows many faces, but only one of them matters in the long run.

On that November night the NewsWire was nearly into the mails with its latest issue. We had to tell the story of demise HP was spreading, balanced with the belief the 3000 could endure. We were granted a phone interview, one I conducted from a London hotel room days later. If you’ve ever had to respond to a work crisis from an overseas vacation, you know how it feels: like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from The Wind in the Willows.

The winds in 2001 already blew past the dot-com boom, so my access was better than ever. “Easy Internet” cafes had popped up across London with a flat rate as an introductory discount. I read reactions from the community and wrote analysis in a room full of clacking keyboards. It felt like the newsroom on the Georgetown square when the Williamson County Sun was on deadline and my stories were due. Energy and communication hung thick in the evening air.

One thing changed three years later: Google News, which already had 2,497 stories about Carly’s firing, an event that was only seven hours old. I read the best of them – many were re-posts of a single AP story — to capture the basic details. I could read right away because we’re all better connected than ever. Keep that thought in mind; I’ll come back to it.

HP dropped the axe on its 3000 business with far less notice, but the news flew across the MPE community in 2001 as quick as CNN reported Carly’s demise last month. HP delivered its news with just as little warning; Fiorina’s bio page on the HP site, for a little while on Feb. 9, changed to a “404: The page you requested could not be found.”

What changed from 2001 was that you don’t need special access to HP officials to tell this story. The company put its Webcast about the firing up live for anyone to hear, even if Wall Street analysts were the only ones allowed to ask questions. Three years of stock maneuvering and promotion now make analyst Webcasts a public event for public companies. By 5 p.m. I had enough quotes to tell our version of the story.

It took less than a day to get a story with the 3000 community’s comments online. More than two dozen customers and HP employees had already connected with us to share their feelings. The story came together overnight, not over a week, all because we’re better connected. That level of connection lets this community survive, for those who wish to remain. Some would have struggled in 2001 to imagine as much survival as HP faces today.

HP will also survive without its in-your-face CEO, much like the 3000 will continue without its vendor. For how long, in either case, is anyone’s guess. The future is fuzzy much of the time, and things you cannot imagine become reality. Chris Gauthier takes his first steps as a Country Western music artist this month. Even Chris says he didn’t see that change coming. (He plays as Sean William.)

Carly Fiorina forced HP to change its face over the last six years. While the majority of us don’t think she swung the axe on the 3000, her mission of go-go growth put the power behind the blade. But her face is not the one that matters the most in matters of HP change. I look in the mirror to see the most important face of change. Perhaps you do, too.

HP won’t make its change of CEO matter in the 3000’s fate, even through many of you wish that fate would change. In truth, you are the agent of change in your life. You allow it to pass through, or struggle against it until you’re ready. Carly Fiorina learned last month that change is not only constant, but also arrives without regard to class. Getting comfortable with change is our everlasting lesson, the one that keeps us connected with being alive. Stay in touch with one another and with what’s happening, and try to enjoy that wild ride.

— Ron Seybold

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