| Front Page | News Headlines | Technical Headlines | Planning Features | Advanced Search |

The Season of Reunions and Relationships

NewsWire Editorial

I’m spending a week as a bachelor as I write this in very late July. My wife and the NewsWire’s 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. I’m filling in her circulation, production and sponsorship talents as best I can, appreciating the woman’s touch in her absence — and eager for our reunion in a few days.

It’s been easy to aware of a woman’s 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. There’s 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 woman’s guidance. I’d call it leadership, but it rarely feels like they steer that absolutely.
As a man I don’t have the intuition for relationships that Dottie shows; in her absence I have been working hard to encourage our suppliers, the kind of nurturing my partner offers with ease. Growing relationships seems like it comes more naturally to the businesswomen I know, although there are exceptions among businessmen, too.

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 I’ve 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 3000’s renaissance, confirmed by the market and now by HP’s 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, it’s all women: from division marketing manager Christine Martino, through Janice Chaffin, Sterling’s immediate report, beyond to her boss Enterprise Systems CEO Ann Livermore. and finally at Fiorina’s 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 don’t 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 that’s a value that’s 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 what’s 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 Fiorina’s selection for anything short of Hackborn’s 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 didn’t 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 LaserJet’s successes helped meet the gap when HP’s first RISC business was delivered late. Visualizing a LaserJet at every PC was a stroke that cemented Hackborn’s place in HP’s 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 3000’s near future, and it’s 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 don’t have to be sold to earn a profit at HP. Livermore’s team wrote the e-services chorus in lightning speed compared to HP’s classic pace. Now she’s the lightning rod for the company’s continuity, and its spark into the top ranks of Internet businesses. Keeping her at HP after a springtime campaign for HP’s top job will be an interesting challenge for Fiorina — perhaps the place the new CEO can make her quickest contribution.

I don’t mean to minimize Fiorina’s ultimate impact on the 3000 community. Having a fresh perspective on the 3000’s prospects could be a turning point. While outgoing CEO Lew Platt was eyeing HP’s 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 woman’s 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 life’s experiences that’s 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 that’s 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.
People may leave the 3000 community, but not many leave for very long. While the newcomers make a place for themselves, our reunion is a celebration of relationships. I’ve enjoyed the novelty of bachelor life this week, but I’ll be grateful for Dottie’s return. Renewing what you love in life — relationships both business and personal — feels like the greatest reward.

— Ron Seybold

Copyright The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.