|The End of a
Career Without Limits
often you can know youve made a difference during a career, but
for Harry Sterling, it must be a certainty. Sterling brought a
humanity to his post as General Manager of the Commercial Systems
Division (CSY), home of the HP 3000. Those who worked beside the man
testify to his values, especially the way he valued people. Sterling
made the act of inclusion his passionate mission in his time at HP, a
skill that served the HP 3000 community to spark the systems
took his post nearly four years ago, the HP 3000 was a different
choice for computing platforms, utterly unlike the sea of Unix
sweeping across IT beaches. He came to his post with an authentic
sense of self the idea that being known, even for your
differences, was a path to being included. Although the strategy he
inherited for the platform didnt emphasize its distinctions,
Sterling knew his customer base well enough to understand that those
differences were advantages. At the same time his business mission
was to get the HP 3000 accepted within HP, treated just like any
other platform HP was selling to businesses. Hed already had 20
years of HP experience on the day he became general manager, so
Sterling knew his way around the HP Way.
In his final
interview before retiring from HP, Sterling also told us about his
own personal achievements that made a difference in HP. These actions
came through an HP organization called GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian
Employee Network. But even getting GLEN to be an officially
recognized HP organization took work, he reported. It also must have
taken the kind of professional courage many of us hope for in our
More than a
year ago, Sterling took his HP World speech and used it to show how
the platform was important to HPs own IT operations a
fact widely known in some parts of HP, but truly under the covers in
HPs corporate message of 1998. Sterlings speech at that
show included a compelling video interview with the HP Chief
Information Officer Mike Rose, who thanked Sterling for leading a
great division to deliver a great product. HP has come out of
the closet and admitted that were using 3000s inside of
HP, Sterling said at the time, beaming with the thrill of
making an honest showing of HPs platform diversity. He had
lived his corporate life in the open at HP, and seemed pleased to
have the honest story told of the 3000s contribution.
It was the
kind of honesty that appears to have driven Sterling throughout his
career. Many both inside HP and out thought becoming general manager
of a division in decline was a career-limiting move. But Sterling
took his own mission of customer focus, begun during his term as the
R&D chief of the division, into his work as General Manager,
evangelizing the idea that relationships with customers are key to
knowing what to build and sell them. The mission paid off with a
rebound in the platforms fortunes: Sales returned to
decade-long high marks after many predicted the 3000 wouldnt
make it beyond 2000. Sterling proves in his interview that his heart
has led him beyond any limits, the same passion to include that won
the HP 3000 a place again at HPs table.
What are the things in your career that youre
proudest of helping to accomplish while at HP?
There are two
things that come to mind. One is the customer focus activities that I
led five years ago with the R&D organization, and the fact
thats now being recognized and its being leveraged across
other parts of HP.
The second thing
was the involvement I had with other HP people to help get
domestic-partner benefits for Hewlett-Packard. There were 12 lesbians
and gay men, and one straight woman, who went before the HP Executive
Committee, which is Lew Platts direct reports. We basically
spent an hour talking about what its like being gay in
Hewlett-Packard, and why we felt we should be extended
domestic-partner benefits. That made a big difference in helping us
to get that three months later.
What did your presentation to the Committee look and feel
We had a
Readers Theatre, where we threaded through each of our stories,
taking turns in talking about personal experiences. Mine primarily
was mostly positive, by the way, in terms of how I had been treated
as a gay employee by my managers. That wasnt the case for
everyone, but I wanted to make sure that was represented as
On a personal
front, it was a very risky thing to do. As a matter of fact, I
believe I started my talk out by saying, Do you ever have those
moments in your life where you stop and think that what youre
about to do may be a career-limiting move? I said, This
is that point for me. That was a personal risk and reward I
And among the professional risks and
In terms of a
risk from a professional point of view, it was the customer focus,
because it really was having to change a culture and view of an
organization. Thats very hard to do, and it required a lot of
persistence on my part. In some cases feeling other than for
the support of my manager [General Manager Oliver Helleboid]
it felt like it was me and them. I dont particularly like being
in those situations, but you get to the point where you tell people,
This is the way its gonna be, and if you dont like
it, get out. Thats the message I had to deliver to get
people understanding I was serious about it.
So you think
youd like that customer focus to be the thing youre
remembered for in HP?
and I think it will be. Im pretty well-known throughout HP at
this point about customer focus. When people start talking about how
to understand customer needs, anybody who knows about CSY will say,
Go see Harry Sterling. Hell tell you what to do.
How do you think both of those things that youre
mentioned play into the way youve contributed to the HP Way? It
feels like theyre related somehow, but I wonder if you think
actually. If you look at HPs corporate objectives, one of them
is certainly about providing value to our customers. If you
dont really have a relationship and an understanding of who
your customers are, what their business needs are, how can you
provide value? It requires a relationship. That was what I was doing,
always [keeping] in mind that one of our corporate objectives is to
make profit. You combine those two things and youre going to
deliver products that customers perceive as valued, and when they
perceive value theyre willing to pay for it.
loyalty with your customers, and that causes them to come back and
buy again. I think its directly related to the corporate
objectives. I just think that parts of HP have gotten so hung up on
the revenue and profit side that theyve forgotten about the
value side, providing the value. That causes your profits to be more
lucrative, because youre creating more value.
In terms of the
domestic partner benefits, I think it was part of the essence of the
HP Way, if you really read it. It talks about having a respect for
people and creating a positive work environment, and in return,
people will excel if you do that. Well, one of the things about
having a positive work environment is to feel included. So if you
exclude some of your employees from benefits, then you dont
feel included. This causes you to not be who you are, and have
resentment and can create a negative view of the workplace.
I just helped let
our managers know that we didnt feel included. In simple little
things like the policy for the company cars was that a spouse could
drive the company car, so long as the HP employee was in the car with
them, like if they were going on vacation or taking someone to the
airport. It excluded domestic partners. So simple little things like
that caused us to feel excluded.
sounds like thats one you bumped up against
thats just an annoyance. Other things like medical benefits are
not annoyances, and caused a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. For
somebody who can choose to be married under a legal system, its
not the same to them.
How long ago did that Readers Theatre presentation
It was one month
after Id been named general manager of CSY. A lot of HPs
position at the time was that the managers just werent aware of
what was happening, and how people felt. It was a very cordial, very
understanding meeting. There were a lot of questions of
clarification, and sensitivity on the part of the managers, and a lot
of support. Lew Platt was supportive, as was his staff.
Were you the highest-ranking presenter
I think I was.
[When HP made the changes 90 days later], it was all inclusive. Every
place they could include us, they did. There were a few cases where
because of federal regulations things had to be handled differently.
All of our medical coverage, every place in the company policies
where it said Spouse it now says Spouse/domestic
partner. And it wasnt just for gay relationships. It was
for any domestic partner relationship, whether it be for a man and
woman, or two men, or two women.
Its one of
the things I saw immediately when I joined HP 24 years ago that I had
not seen in the two other places where I had worked: this respect for
people that HP has. I worked for an engineering company of 400 people
in Virginia, and it was primarily government contract work in the
Washington D.C. area, so its what you would expect. I headed up
the systems programming staff. If you know anything about IBM
mainframes, its the gurus and priestesses who keep that system
How do you believe you helped to change the HP 3000s
business strategy while you were in its top management
One of the things
that happened in the last two years was that we went to looking at
the 3000 business by the entire value chain. Thats something
that my team and I gathered all the information about: the revenues
for the entire business, not just the server hardware part of it. We
basically have put together a process where were now tracking
profitability for the total business, and making that visible to
managers on a quarterly basis.
Thats a way for the 3000 division to get credit for
the continuing support people pay for, right?
havent changed any of our measurements, other than were
making that information visible and acknowledging and having our
managers see that we are making investments that in many cases
benefit other parts of the business that we dont get financial
credit for. But it is the right thing to do for the business. For
example, last year, in refreshing all of the education programs, we
actually did that out of our [CSY] investment dollars. But the
education group was the one to get the revenue for that. Weve
included that in our total business picture now. Weve put
together measures to look at the total business. Thats one way
that I made a change.
Your background was technical until you assumed your GM
spot. What do you believe a technical candidate can bring to
management thats unique, unlike marketing or sales
I can tell you
what things were a blindside for me, a tough part of learning, and
that was the whole marketing and channel piece. I didnt have a
lot of experience with it, and it required a lot of energy. I was
very sensitive about hiring a marketing manager who had that skill,
who was Roy [Breslawski] at the time.
I think what
really is still key with the 3000 is keeping the R&D organization
motivated, and keeping the linkage with the customers. The thing that
does all that is the technical dimension. I think being the GM and
coming from the technical side I probably was able to influence the
R&D organization more so than somebody who did not understand
R&D. In the past there were GMs who effectively told me right
out, I dont understand R&D, I dont want to be
involved in the details; Im leaving that up to you.
Thats great, except that sometimes you feel kind of out in left
field, and maybe a little unappreciated if your GM doesnt know
something about what youre doing.
I think that
maybe helped to continue to move the R&D organization a little
faster, and be a little more focused in what we did. They would take
my suggestions and ideas and work through them maybe a little more
quickly from someone who didnt understand it. This is all
speculation on my side; youd probably have to ask some of the
R&D folks if thats the case.
I probably was
able to create credibility with a lot of the customers faster, coming
from the R&D side because a lot of our customers are
techies. I brought a certain respect to the position, but this again
is speculation. Im putting words in peoples mouths.
also tell you I felt very vulnerable on the marketing side. It was
not an area of expertise for me.
When you were considering retiring, did you think you
should get Winston Prather, the new CSY GM, involved with marketing
because somewhere down the line he might be a candidate for
throughout my career Ive been very sensitive in helping to
bring along people who report to me, to get them to a position to
take my place. Its something I always appreciated having happen
for me. Olivier Helleboid did that thing for me, one year before I
became the GM. He took me on a customer tour of Europe when he was
presenting at user group meetings. We basically split the
presentation half and half. That was his way of getting me out in the
field, getting to know the customers. He did that for me, and I did
that for Winston. Because it had been done for me, it really helped
position me for the next level, so I felt I needed to do that as
well. Ive always done that with my staff, encourage them to
take on some of my job. Im very good at delegating. I try to
give people things to that would be the next level up.
How did you set boundaries for what HP will do or can for
the 3000 customer while you were GM?
It came out of
necessity. We only had a certain number of dollars we were able to
invest, and still remain profitable. It was a really hard set of
things in front of us that we could afford to do. We were always, and
still are, in a constant state of having to prioritize our
investments. Working directly with customers had helped us understand
which were those critical things. Indeed, in many cases we had
customers prioritize for that. Thats where the Special Interest
Groups helped a lot, in some of our technology
whats happened now in the last couple of years with our ISVs is
that were starting to build better relationships with them.
Thats out of two things: One, I dont want to do things
that one of our ISVs is doing, and effectively put them out of
business or take business away from them. The second thing is that if
we can have partners working with us to provide more functionality,
and we can share in the wealth of doing that together, then the
bottom line is that it gives our customers more than they would have
Frankly, I have
turned a deaf ear in some of these situations with customers, because
frankly, they want something for nothing. And they think, If HP
did it, it would be part of the operating system and we wouldnt
have to pay for it. Well, the hard and fast fact is we have to
come up with investment dollars out of profit and revenue. So we
cant afford to do all this stuff for nothing.
were several situations where I knew if we did the functionality, and
attempted to sell it as an option, which wed done in the past,
the customers would simply choose not to buy it, and continue to
pound on us and say it should be free. If we had a partner do it and
had the partner sell it, the customer seems to be more ready to pay
for it. They have this thing that they buy the hardware from us, and
theres no value in the software to them. That was the direction
we went. Any added value in software above the base we prefer our
partners do that. It frees us up to do the operating system stuff,
and it gives the partners a revenue stream.
Can you give an example of how you implemented this
In one case I
canceled the whole ODBC driver project. Originally we were going to
charge for it. Then it became very clear the customers were not
willing to pay for it at the level we would have had to charge for
It was halfway
implemented, and I said Were not going to do this.
Its clear the customers are not going to pay for it. They want
it free. Thats when we started negotiating with Birket
[Foster of M.B. Foster Associates for ODBCLink/SE]. We said hey, if
you sell this and build stuff on top of it, be willing to contribute
the base driver in FOS, well put that out there for nothing,
and you can sell products on top of it.
I could see we
were going to have another year of investment, and no revenue for
that. I rechanneled those engineers back into networking, which was
more critical for us at the time.
Whats the biggest challenge ahead for the 3000
to think if its anything different than the ongoing challenges
we always have: more to do than we have dollars to invest. I guess I
would say two things. Getting through this hump of the next [N-Class]
platform successfully is the first thing. The second is making sure
the 3000 message continues to be part of the e-service message from
knowing what I know about where both of those things are, I
dont see any concerns about the fact that will continue.
Its got to be something that Winston will stay on top of.
Im sure he is hes still the acting R&D
manager, and I know hes engaged with [Business Critical
Computing GM] Janiece [Chaffins] team already as part of her
staff, and thats a key part of making sure the messaging
Whats the project you most regret not being able to
see though to its finish, and why?
really have anything. The job Ive had for the past four years,
the satisfaction that I get, is not in the delivery of the products.
That was something I was really excited about when I was the R&D
manager. From the business point of view I think I finished
everything I needed to finish for this phase. The platform is
positioned well from a measurement point of view. We have a good road
map in place to carry us for the next three to five years. We know
where our staffing levels are, and how were going to execute on
that. I dont feel I have any major loose ends. Sure, there are
products that arent completed. It would have been nice to have
been around when we get to the next generation platforms, and when
IA-64 gets released. But I frankly dont get the same kicks out
the product introductions that I used to. Its more that the
business is in a good state, we have good relationships with our
customers, the employees have high morale right now. What more could
I ask for?
How did you know that the 3000 community was strong enough
to survive the doubts that were rampant when you took the GM
written something about this in the past, where sometimes I will come
to certain conclusions with my own frame of reference. Then with more
information I will change my mind. I think thats what happened.
When I came into the job I was told the 3000 was not going to be
around but for another three or four years. That it wasnt clear
at that point that we should make the IA-64 investment. I knew that
going into the job that was one of the decisions I was going to have
to make and communicate, whether we were going to do it or not. I
attempted to postpone that decision for a couple of years, until I
thought it was a critical time from a technology decision point of
view, where we had to start working on it. Or from a customer
intolerance point of view, where they said We need long-term
plans, and youve got to tell us whats going to happen in
the next five years.
After I talked
with some of our larger customers, they told us it would take three
to five years for some of them to make those kinds of changes. And
they needed that kind of visibility. I forced the issue upward,
putting together three or four different scenarios if we
didnt do it, if we did do it.
through that, and having the information about the customers needing
the planning horizon, I forced myself to make a recommendation to
Glenn Osaka, who was the group manager. The GMs for the Unix business
supported the decision. The recommendation was that we announce
you remember a time where you shifted your own thinking, from being a
caretaker of a division in decline to someone who knew they were
going to be establishing a future?
I spent three
months talking to our major accounts, went and visited them and we
tried out a couple of scenarios under non-disclosure. I talked to
some industry consultants, and I talked to Rich Sevcik, who at that
point had the Unix business. I remember in particular one analyst who
said, I dont know how you could not decide to do IA-64.
If you didnt it would hurt your overall image with your
customers. It would even potentially affect your Unix business. Your
competitors could use it against you. And besides, its very
profitable. How could you not make this decision? It was a
With all that
information, all that was left to me was to package it all up and
inform everyone we were going to go forward.
What gives you the greatest hope for the 3000
customers. Theyll keep us on the right track, so long as we
stay connected to them.
What do you think youll miss the most?
The people in HP,
and the customers. I was helping to draft my last article, and I was
going back on memory lane, thinking about the first time I met Birket
Foster, and COBOL SIG leader Jeanette Nutsford. I was thinking about
those kinds of people and how theyve almost become friends to
me. When I see them, its more than just a business association.
Im going to miss that, and going to HP World and seeing all the
faces and talking to the people. Its the people Im going
to miss. Thats really all, the people.