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Tsinghua University
Beijing, China
March 11, 2004

© Copyright 2004 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P
All rights reserved. Do not use without written permission from HP.

I want to thank all of you for taking time out of what I know is a very busy study schedule to be here today. I know this is valuable time that you could be using to work, or study, or maybe to play Sword on-line. Thank you for having me here today.

Coming from a company that has the word "invent" as part of our brand, as part of our signature, I sometimes begin speeches by saying that invention and innovation have been part the DNA of HP for more than sixty years. We spend more than four billion dollars a year on R&D, so invention is part of our future as well as part of our past.

That all sounds pretty impressive until you think about China's history, and you realize that "invent" has been part of China's DNA for more than 5,000 years. Every schoolchild in America learns about China's many gifts to this world - from the invention of paper, to gunpowder, the wheelbarrow, the compass, acupuncture - right up to the first blast furnace and the first use of iron casting, back in the sixth century.

As a company, we at HP are especially indebted to a man named Bi Sheng, who had the vision in 1045 A.D. to invent the world's first movable type, which led to its first printer - a full 300 years before Gutenberg's invention of movable type changed the Western world. So today, I want to issue a belated thank you to Bi Sheng for having the foresight to set in motion a process that would eventually lead to a $20 billion business for HP.

That great tradition of invention and innovation has certainly been carried on here at Tsinghua, where some of the finest instructors in the world today are working to train some of the finest scientists and engineers. It's a bit ironic that this school was originally established nearly 100 years ago as a place where young Chinese could go to America and other western nations to learn from us. Today, the rest of the world, I think, has much to learn from you.

It's always struck me that the process of invention is a little bit like the process of being a college student. After all, as an inventor, you go into a lab and you have a strong but perhaps vague idea of what you want to achieve. By working hard, experimenting, learning along the way, and using as a guide the work of those who went before you - you advance down the road toward discovery. You may not end up where you started - or even where you expected, but if you're successful, then begins another difficult process of trying to make your invention work in the world around you.

Like inventors, many of you have traveled the same road over the last four years here in the university. The person you are today - the goals you have today, the dreams you have today - may be different from the ones you had when you came here. And now, you are become prepared to take what you've learned here and make it work in the world around you.

I believe that young people are graduating today into a world filled with more hope and more promise than in any other time in our history. I know that might sound strange, because we think always of the dangers and challenges in the world around us. But I have studied history in my life. I do believe this is an era of great promise and great opportunity.

For those of you who have seen our ads, you know that they end with the phrase, "everything is possible." A cynic might say that just a marketing slogan - but I actually believe that. I don't think everything is easy. I don't think things happen right away, but I do think everything is possible.

For all the remarkable advancements we have seen in our work in recent years, nothing has matched the power of information technology to change our world for the better. And in the next decade, it will take us to places we can only imagine today.

China is the world's fastest-growing economy, the world's leader in direct foreign investment, one of the world's largest trading nations - a leader on both the production and consumption of information technology. China is poised to play a large part in that future, and the students who graduate from Tsinghua University are poised to shape the future of technology like never before.

Like any university students, I know for you the road ahead has much uncertainty. But if there is one thing I have learned from the past 20 years in this industry, it is that the principle you have learned inside the walls of Tsinghua is more true outside the university than inside. The principle I am speaking of is this: that great leaders, like great organizations, great companies, and great nations - great leaders are defined not simply by their capabilities, but by their character. Not just by the company they are, but by the company they keep. Not by success alone, but as Tsinghua teaches, with self-discipline and social concern in equal balance.

To be honest, I wish I could say that the road to learning that lesson for me was easy. I wish I could tell you that the day I graduated from university I knew exactly how all the pieces would fit together, that I knew exactly what I wanted to do from day one and my life as been a nice straight line and careful plan ever since. The truth is I didn't begin my career as a technologist. I took to heart the wisdom of Confucius, who taught us that one should "study the past if you would define the future," and I majored in medieval history and philosophy at Stanford University. As perhaps you can appreciate, that sort of degree was not in great demand when I graduated from university.

I wasn't sure what to do after college, so I went to law school because that's what my father wanted me to do. But I found I didn't like law school; I didn't have any passion for it. I quit after one semester, and wandered off into the world to find myself, and did some strange things. I answered the phones and typed - I was what you call a secretary. I worked for a year at a commercial brokerage company, then I went off to Italy to teach English to Italian businessmen. And finally, I decided to apply to business school. There, I learned about marketing, and operations, and other skills necessary for business. But more importantly, I had professors, like the students here do, who challenged me, and taught me a different notion of what was possible, who forced me to see my life in new ways. And I think in a very great measure, that is what leadership is about, that is what education is about, that is what character is all about.

You see, I think one of most important qualities a leader can bring is the ability, the energy, the desire to unlock potential in others. I think leadership is ultimately about helping other people achieve more than they think is possible; it is about helping people see a different set of possibilities for themselves.

I've been asked a lot since then if there are any lessons I've learned about character and leadership. There are three lessons, I think that I have learned, that continue to instruct me to this day, that continue to guide me in both business and in life.

The first lesson is that values matter and character counts, and that no matter how much things change, fundamental values shouldn't. For those of you who are just starting out your career, you will find that in leadership, as perhaps in life, the most important decisions you make, and the toughest decisions you make are often the decisions you make alone. And when you make those decisions, there is an opportunity to be buffeted about by and confused by all kinds of things: conventional wisdom and popular emotion, and maybe by cynicism and doubt, as well.

I think leadership is a compass. At a personal level, and I use this phrase a lot inside the business, I think leadership takes what I would call a strong internal compass. And I use the term compass because what does a compass do? When the winds are howling, and the storms raging, and the sky is so cloudy that you have nothing to navigate by, a compass tells you where true North is. And I think when a person is in a difficult situation, a lonely situation; you have to rely on that compass. Who am I? What do I believe? Do I believe I am doing the right things for the right reasons in the best ways I can? Sometimes that's all you have.

The second lesson I've learned about character and leadership is that leadership is not a destination, just as success is not a destination. And this is a cliché, but there's a reason it's a cliché, and that's because it is right - is that leadership is a journey. The only constant in any of our lives, whether you're running a company or running a family, or perhaps running a country, is change. But change has never been as constant and as fast as it is today.

To me, the dividing line between what will increasingly separate the winners from the losers - the dividing line between those individuals who truly make a difference and a contribution in the 21st century from those who don't - is the line between those who embrace change and those who run away from it. It will be between those who seek to lead change, and those who find refuge in the status quo or in their comfort zones.

And the third lesson I've learned about leadership and success is that real power comes in the connections between all kinds of things; but most importantly, the connections between people. Power comes not from those who stand alone, but from those who can work best with others, and reach out to others to achieve a desired outcome. And finding those connections and recognizing those connections is part of what leadership is all about.

As leaders, you can never forget that people want to do a good job. They want to be treated with consideration and respect. They want to feel a real sense of accomplishment in their work, to have their ideas considered, and their achievements recognized. People want to feel like they're part of something larger than themselves - to be a part of the larger vision, direction, to be part of the goals than an organization is working toward.

Personally, I think anyone can lead from anywhere at any time, which is to say that I believe that character is a choice, and leadership is about making a positive impact. And anyone can make a positive impact. Some acts of leadership are very large, and happen on a grand scale and a big compass, and some acts of leadership are quite small. But like a stone you drop in a pond and it has ripple effects, sometimes even very small acts of leadership can have a big consequence. And of course, it follows that if anyone can choose to lead at anywhere from anytime, then it is the role of leaders to find leaders and to unlock for them the possibility that they can make a positive impact.

So those things are what I think character is all about, but what about capability? For the profession that many of you have chosen, for the profession of communication and information technology, as scientists or engineers, the heart of capability, the true potential of this field also lies in finding the potential locked inside things, whether they are organizations, or societies, machines - or people.

I think the technology landscape today is changing in three fundamental ways.

The first big shift is that all processes, all content are being transformed from physical and analog to digital, mobile and virtual. There are so many examples. Just think about the change happening in photography. Photography is going from physical to digital, but it's also about the opportunity for that process to go mobile - and about the content becoming virtual, available, and accessible to anyone anywhere in any form they want. And that transformation will happen to every process, every industry, and every kind of content.

The second big shift we see in technology is that the demand for simplicity, for manageability, for adaptability. While it is true that while technology is core to everything, and every process is being digitized, technology is still too complex, too hard to manage, and often a barrier to business agility

The third big shift is that it's becoming a horizontal, heterogeneous, connected world. Whether you're a CEO trying to become more efficient, more effective and faster; or a small and medium business trying to mobilize your workforce; or you're a consumer who wants a whole bunch of separate things that you have bought in your home to work better together - it is now about horizontal connections. It's about making a heterogeneous world work together and speak a common language. And I am speaking not of just devices, but networking and connecting businesses and companies, employees and suppliers.

As technology moves from the fringe to the core of people's lives and businesses, the need for technology to deliver more becomes increasingly important. I talk to a lot of customers and consumers and what I find is that they are no longer willing to compromise between lower price and higher functionality, or to trade speed and flexibility for quality and reliability. The days of compromise, of either/or solutions are gone. Customers and consumers - from CEOs, to moms and pops using the Internet to email their grandchildren - want it all: affordability, and reliability, and security, and simplicity, and manageability, and adaptability, and innovation and connection.

Now if I were giving you a speech today on HP, I would tell you that that this is a future that we are trying to create. That as the number one consumer IT company in the world, the number one technology company for small and medium-sized businesses, and one of the leading enterprise technology companies, we are a company unlike any other, with market-leading positions in virtually every category in which we compete. Today, we are almost an $84 billion company with 140,000 employees in 176 countries around the world. Our reach and responsibility is great. We are working hard today to create the growth industries of the future, and find the connections between them.

This school has prepared all of you well for that same journey. As you work to take what you have learned here, I hope that you will also strive to use your capabilities to create communities that are not just richer, but better; to judge success not just by the number of networks you connect, but by the number of people you connect; that you won't just help make better companies, but that you will also work to make better communities, and a better world.

It's that same kind of thinking that brought us to China in the first place. It was 22 years ago that HP opened our first office here in China, in an old municipal factory located in Beijing. A day before the opening, there was still sawdust on the floor, and two of our engineers worked so hard to get our systems ready that they actually slept overnight in the building on folding cots. When we opened that building, it was the first partnership of its kind to be sponsored by the government of the People's Republic of China in conjunction with a foreign company.

In 1985 our first joint venture agreement was signed between our then chairman, Dave Packard, and the then Minister of information technologies, Jiang Ze Min. One newspaper recalled that the day was marked by "much hand-shaking and drinking of green tea." At the ceremonial dedication, our representative at the time said that "it was our hope that by exchanging experiences, not only would we contribute to the progress of our industries and the growth of our economies, but to the friendship of our countries and the humanity of this world."

That's the same wish I leave you with here today. This university, I believe, has prepared you well and taught you the meaning of both capability and character. The leaders of tomorrow will be the people of your age with the drive and commitment to fulfill their potential and to help others reach their potential.

This is a world that in fact has always been driven by the young. Galileo published his first book on gravity at age 22. The founders of HP, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, were in their 20's when they began the company. Bill Gates, after all, started Microsoft when he was 22. Or think about a lesson of one of this school's great founders - Zhao Yuanren, one of Tsinghua's Great Four Tutors, who knew 10 European languages and dozens of Chinese dialects, who accompanied British philosopher Bertrand Russell around China and translated his English into the local dialect at each of their destinations. He was only 28 at the time.

And let us not forget that the world's very first computer programmer was a woman in her 20s named Ada Byron Lovelace, who lived more than 150 years ago. She greatly expanded on the work of her mentor, the renowned mathematician Charles Babbage, whose work on the analytical engine preceded the modern computer. Today, the computer language Ada is named after her.

Your job, your great opportunity, is to harness the forces of change swirling all around you, in whatever field you decide to enter, and to take full advantage of the possibilities at your fingertips. Leadership can take place in acts large and small, and it can come not just from CEOs and Prime Ministers, but also from ordinary citizens who believe in the potential of others. I hope that whatever you do, you will remember your own power and dedicate yourself to the cause Tsinghua has prepared you so well for: to dedicate yourself to unlock the potential in others; to believe in the potential of yourself; to make this era the most exciting in all of human history - and to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that everything is possible.

Thank you.

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