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Quotes and anecdotes About Bill Hewlett


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On his early propensity for tinkering

"I'd always been interested in scientific things, but my father — who died when I was 12 — was a greatly beloved doctor, and I did not want to compete with his image, so instead of getting interested in medicine I invested a lot of hours disassembling door locks and things like that. My mother just called it mischief."

On HP's early days

"When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say we didn't have any plans when we started. The idea of having a business came before our invention of the audio oscillator. We were just opportunistic. We did anything to bring in a nickel. We made a bowling alley foul-line indicator, a clock drive for a telescope, a thing to make a urinal flush automatically, and a shock machine to make people lose weight. Here we were, with about $500 in capital, trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do. So we got into this thing not by design but because it worked out that way."

HP's first product, Bill's audio oscillator

In the spring of 1938, working in Professor Fred Terman's lab at Stanford, engineering students, including Bill Hewlett, developed some laboratory equipment applications for negative feedback. Bill's important contribution was the resistance-stabilized audio oscillator.

Bill's audio oscillator represented the first practical, low-cost method of generating high-quality audio frequencies needed in communications, geophysics, medicine and defense work.

They named it the 200A because they thought the name would make HP look like it had been around for a while.

Bill remembered, "We really didn't know if this oscillator was any good. We simply put one together that worked pretty well, sent a letter out to universities and others, got three or four orders, and tried it again."

On keeping storerooms open

When HP got under way, Bill and Dave determined that parts bins and storerooms should always be open. Sometimes not everyone got the word, however, which accounted for an incident that occurred some years later. Coming into the plant one weekend to do some work, Bill Hewlett stopped off at a company storeroom to pick up a microscope. Finding the equipment cage locked, he broke open the latch and left a note saying that the room never ever was to be locked again.

On valuing creativity

In the 1950s Bill and Dave wanted HP engineers to think creatively. Realizing schedules were filled with lab assignments, Hewlett wanted to make it illegal to do scheduled work on Fridays. He suggested engineers take the day off to "think blue sky."

It never quite turned out that way, but Fridays were the day for brainstorming about the future and for "thinking far out."

Engineers from that time recall that Bill and Dave were very forgiving about mistakes because they believed that if you weren't thinking far enough ahead you wouldn't make mistakes, and they wanted to encourage creative and experimental thinking.

On Bill's generosity

When he was in eighth grade, Steve Jobs decided to build a frequency counter for a school project and needed parts. Someone suggested that he call Bill Hewlett. Finding a William Hewlett in the telephone book, the 12-year-old Jobs called and asked, "Is this the Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard?" "Yes," said Bill. Jobs made his request. Bill spent some time talking to him about his project. Several days later, Jobs went to HP and picked up a bag full of parts that Bill had put together for him.

Subsequently, Jobs landed a summer job at HP. He later went on to co-found Apple Computer.

On the secret of HP's success

The secret revolved simply on "choosing the right things to do."

"We knew what technology was available," Bill said, "and we figured out how little bits of it would fit within the area where we wanted to be. There was not one giant step that we took at any point; there were a lot of little steps. Pretty much we just stuck to our knitting. I think we were concerned about making a technical contribution and we operated on the assumption that if we made a contribution to society, rewards would follow."

On survival of the HP Way

"What we consider the HP Way doesn't just happen from the top; it's built into the organization. I tell HP people, 'You're really the propagators of the HP Way. You're where it resides.'"

Shared values

When asked about his relationship with Dave, Bill told a story about their common values. Once, upon hearing about a local disaster at a place where they owned a ranch together, Bill telephoned the ranch foreman and said that if there was a need for financial assistance in the community he would like to make an anonymous donation but, he underscored, the gift would have to be anonymous. The foreman replied, "Gee, that's funny, Mr. Hewlett, Mr. Packard telephoned about a half hour ago with the exact same request."

Common interest in the outdoors

Bill and Dave's common interest in the outdoors first manifested itself in their junior year at Stanford when one of their professors organized a field trip to the Sierra Nevada to visit a hydroelectric power plant operated by Southern California Edison. Bill and Dave took that occasion to go fishing and had a wonderful time together. That was the first of many trips to the mountains, including a two-week pack trip in Colorado shortly after they graduated in 1934. On that occasion they, plus a horse rented for a dollar a day, hiked up into the San Juan Mountains.

There is no question that a shared love of the outdoors strengthened their friendship and helped build a mutual understanding and respect that was at the core of their successful business relationship.

Designing a plant that could be used as a supermarket

After World War II, HP's earnings and employment figures dipped slightly, but by 1950, HP's employment was back up to its wartime peak of about 200. The company had built its first building and expanded into a nearby Quonset hut. Needing still more room for manufacturing, they built a plant adjacent to the existing building. They designed it to be a general-purpose building, thinking that if they couldn't keep the company going, they could lease out the new plant as a supermarket.

On their early management philosophy

Bill Hewlett put it this way: "It is important to remember that both Dave and I were products of the Great Depression. We had observed its effects on all sides, and it could not help but influence our decisions on how a company should be run."

Two thoughts were clear to them from the start. "First, we did not want to run a hire-and-fire operation, but rather a company built on a loyal and dedicated work force. Further, we felt that this work force should be able to share to some extent in the progress of the company. Second, we wished to operate, as much as possible, on a pay-as-you-go basis, that our growth be financed by our earnings and not by debt."


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