The New Generation
It’s His Call

Autonomy has been as intrinsic to Hewlett-Packard as humps on a camel. Some might say the company’s willingness to let anyone who’s a manager have their own way can be just as awkward looking as any hump. But the fundamental truth of being an HP manager is you get to call your own shots, right or wrong.

We’ve seen some wrong in our days. One manager told us that the small software provider had no place in the badly-needed growth of the HP 3000’s applications. Companies still buying the system wanted suppliers as big as they were, he believed. Earnest, new companies with desire and fire in the belly still weren’t going to help, because size mattered most. We left that meeting shaking our heads, wondering who was going to build new HP 3000 applications. The big companies weren’t interested at all. The small ones were the wrong size, according to that manager.

This was his business viewpoint, something HP encouraged him to use. That’s the rule in the company: think for yourself and act. It’s something that’s now working in the 3000’s favor and promises even more good fortune. Closer to the customers, the general manager of the 3000 division wasn’t willing to close the door on small software suppliers. Within a few years, a pilot program to seed development 3000s got launched. Now some relatively small solution suppliers are leading the charge into the future with applications, winning new business at airlines and manufacturers.

The idea that small software companies are a good match for 3000 customers was general manager Harry Sterling’s viewpoint. Sterling will probably tell you it’s just something the customers told him. He does that a lot, passing the credit along to others. Sterling runs the 3000 as a business based on customer needs, tempered with his experience of managing a computer department and leading design teams.

We think he enjoys what he does because of who said the words at the top of this column. They came from Bill Russell, Sterling’s boss. We asked why a strategic software component wasn’t available on the 3000, but ran on the 9000.

We found some comfort in knowing the GM of an HP division was in charge of its investments. It’s not a novel business plan, but some people believe 3000 investments get decided at a much higher level of HP. Apparently, that’s as unworkable in HP as having a camel driver drink for his camels at the oasis.

– Ron Seybold