The Season of Reunions and Relationships
Im spending a week as a bachelor as I write this in very late July. My wife and the NewsWires publisher Dottie Lentz is away at her annual week-long Montana yoga retreat, and her absence creeps into much of the work to be done in my days. Im filling in her circulation, production and sponsorship talents as best I can, appreciating the womans touch in her absence and eager for our reunion in a few days.
Its been easy to
aware of a womans touch in the HP world this month, as the
company appointed the first female CEO of any Dow 30 corporation,
Carly Fiorina. That HP chose between two women in its last leg of
executive search is even more remarkable. Theres something
unique about being guided by a woman in business, a thing I know a
little about. I have more than five years experience of
prospering under a womans guidance. Id call it
leadership, but it rarely feels like they steer that absolutely.
Such relationships are big on the HP 3000 horizon in August, when many of us pack up to return to HP World, the annual face-time-fest that Ive relished for each of the last 15 years. This is the season of reunions and relationships. This year our community leavens that sweet summer loaf with returns, revivals and renewal. The 3000s renaissance, confirmed by the market and now by HPs corporate chiefs, delivers a bounty of prospects and people.
For the 3000, the majority of the people in its command chain are now women. With the exception of general manager Harry Sterling, division R&D chief Winston Prather and Enterprise Systems group VP Bill Russell, its all women: from division marketing manager Christine Martino, through Janice Chaffin, Sterlings immediate report, beyond to her boss Enterprise Systems CEO Ann Livermore. and finally at Fiorinas feet. Many steps the 3000 takes are shaped by women.
There is a notable exception to that 3000 chain in Dick Hackborn, the new chairman-in-waiting on the HP board. People in HP point to Hackborn as the keeper of the HP Way, and some think of him in the same league as Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Throughout my 15 years I never met any of these men, but the top men managing at Hewlett-Packard can sometimes be retiringly shy. They dont trumpet their best assets easily, a sign of humility as well as security.
Security is as big a part of the HP Way as big as any element of the culture, but thats a value thats due to change. HP has a legendary habit of taking care of its employees; its turnover rate is about a third of the rest of the Silicon Valley revolving door. Hackborn will preserve whats left of the HP Way founded in the 40s by Bill and Dave, but he appears to have signed on for some real change in choosing an outsider for CEO.
Do not mistake Fiorinas selection for anything short of Hackborns pick. He has led HP into businesses that have helped it grow eight-fold since I began reporting on the company. That was the year HP rolled out a little marvel dubbed the Mighty Mouse by the 3000 community, the Series 37. It was remarkable because it was an office computer that didnt demand a computer room. HP was a modest $6 billion company in 1984, when it launched the LaserJet. With that product Hackborn led the way from high margins to high volumes, creating its PC business after fathering the future of printing for HP.
The LaserJets successes helped meet the gap when HPs first RISC business was delivered late. Visualizing a LaserJet at every PC was a stroke that cemented Hackborns place in HPs legends. It was not all that unique in the industry Apple delivered a similar product at nearly the same time. But the LaserJet proved HP could execute with partners like Canon, instead of building everything from scratch. Fifteen years later, Hackborn is betting his reputation that HP is ready to enter relationships with the affinity women show for the task.
HP now pulls more than a third of its profits from printer consumables, the razor blades to its high-tech razors. Millions of toner cartridges later, HP has grown big enough to have a $7 billion spinoff and five CEOs in 1999. Only one CEO has a direct impact on the HP 3000s near future, and its not Carly Fiorina, at least not this month.
No, the CEO that matters the most to the HP 3000 community today is Livermore, leading the part of HP that coined the catch-phrase e-services. While you will have a hard time finding direct evidence of e-services this year, analysts like the idea of gaining pieces of companies in exchange for hardware and services, and the concept that applications and their servers dont have to be sold to earn a profit at HP. Livermores team wrote the e-services chorus in lightning speed compared to HPs classic pace. Now shes the lightning rod for the companys continuity, and its spark into the top ranks of Internet businesses. Keeping her at HP after a springtime campaign for HPs top job will be an interesting challenge for Fiorina perhaps the place the new CEO can make her quickest contribution.
I dont mean to minimize Fiorinas ultimate impact on the 3000 community. Having a fresh perspective on the 3000s prospects could be a turning point. While outgoing CEO Lew Platt was eyeing HPs bottom line, he could have been looking up to high-profit businesses like the 3000. His HP Way did not nurture a risk-taking environment. But Platt is more than his oversights. He can take credit for creating an environment that opened the door for the changes of Livermore and Fiorina.
Platt has been keenly aware of a womans presence earlier in his life, when his first wife died. In a recent BusinessWeek interview he talked about HP giving him the room to grieve, even afternoons off. It taught me that things I thought were gender-related were not about gender at all, but about the role you are thrust into in life, he said.
Grief might be one of lifes experiences thats gender-neutral, but the overriding reality is that men and women have different things thrust upon them. To integrate family priorities into HP, Platt helped make job-sharing a fact of life at HP. Relationships between parents and children are supposed to take priority over work, something thats made easier through job sharing. HP 3000 lab managers Pam Bennett and Becky McBride job share at the 3000 division, another example of an advanced relationship.
In fact, you could say the
3000 community is more advanced at relationships than its
counterparts and show its now legendary closeness to the
customer as proof. Each summer many of us make our pilgrimage to that
mecca of close contact at the HP World conference, where old
relationships will be revived this year. Among those returning are
those who are revived, companies with close to 20 years of commitment
to the 3000, enjoying a reward for their refusal to leave the market
in its darker times.