8.22.2011

My Thoughts on HP Part 1



When you think of Apple think of the first person that comes to mind. For me it’s Steve Jobs, or perhaps even Jony Ive.

When I think of Microsoft I think of Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer.

When I think of Starbucks, the name Howard Schultz comes to mind.

Amazon, Jeff Bezos…Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg… Ford, Allan Mulally… Dell, Michael Dell…. Google, Larry Page & Sergey Brin…. Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban.... KFC, Col. Sanders... McDonalds, Ronald.... you get the idea.

You can talk about strategy and brand all you want, but unless there is a visible face to the company it’ll be hard to find your soul and establish a vision that everyone can rally around.

Sure not all companies with “faces” are on the right track, but in this day and age having a face is one of the most important ingredients to building any successful business. This is why all the new start-ups you see are all about people, being social, and being open.

Before I left HP I asked myself this question. Who is the face of HP? Is it William Hewlett and David Packard? Yes. …but they’re not here anymore. Who is left representing their ideals?

I remember Mark Hurd put it well when he said “HP is really their company (Bill & Dave’s) and I’ve been put here to run it for a while.”

Mark made a point of removing all the pictures of Carly Fiorina from the lobby of each building and left Bill & Dave’s up there. He did not hang his own picture up, which was a sign of humility that many of us appreciated. In fact, I remember Mark discouraged any stories about him in the press at the beginning.

Instead Mark embraced the idea that we could tune HP and live up to the ideals that Bill & Dave believed in. Unfortunately it felt like we got lost somewhere along the way. The “HP Way”, which is a book I read cover to cover, was nowhere to be seen after a few years of cost cutting and restructuring. …but I had to believe that Mark was planning on bringing it back at some point, perhaps it was almost too late.

Whatever the case, no matter how he went down, Mark Hurd believed that Hewlett-Packard needed to remain Hewlett-Packard as one company and should not be broken up. Mark saw the symbiotic connections between the businesses, and believed if we were to optimize them we would ultimately be successful.

HP treated me with the utmost respect, I love the company. There are good people there with good ideas. However, there were times I felt frustrated. HP was a place where if you weren't careful, good ideas would get killed quickly. Ideas that could have changed the company for the better died because of a lack of patience and a lack of vision...and a lack of patience. Did I mention a lack of patience? It got to a point where I felt I was becoming unproductive.

I remember going to an executive retreat, a motivational event, where I stood up and asked a question about brand and experiences --- basically challenging the notion that the HP brand had enough brand elasticity to be all things to everyone. Our leader got up out of his chair, walked on stage, grabbed the microphone from the person I was questioning and he said “you Voodoo guys are too obsessed about brand and experiences. I’ll sell millions of PCs this month regardless of brand…” There were gasps in the room --- and some embarrassing stares afterwards. Totally the wrong venue for this type of question, my bad I guess --- I basically got shot down in public by the man! Oops.

It was then that I realized this might not be the right place for me. I was sort of humiliated, but when I think back I realize – he was 100% right. I was obsessed about brand and experiences. I still am… Of course brand is just a piece of it -- but you need a clear vision that people can rally around, a great product, a sound business model... and the rest will come... and it’s truly unfortunate that they haven’t figured out such fundamental challenges at HP.

Everyone on the outside is bashing Leo and the board for the most recent move. Though I’m not sure it was an easy decision for them. I understand that sometimes to fix a disease you need to cut off a limb. Unfortunately I think they’re cutting off more than one limb, and they are missing the synergies required to successfully operate a profitable enterprise + consumer model. Though HP has separate divisions, the company is very much dependent on each other.

You can’t simply cut off one head and grow another, you’ll bleed out.

You can absolutely fix dysfunctional organizations without breaking them apart. Such a move requires strong leadership (empowered leaders), a believable vision, and a strategy that resonates.

I’m going to write a follow up article on the idea of a spinoff, what it means. I’ll also share what I believe HP needs to do to bring back the soul that Bill & Dave created, bring back real innovation, and command the respect they once had. Lest we forget that HP was an icon in the valley, they still are. Bill & Dave were like royalty back in the day!

I will close by saying this… It’s 2011… If I was running PSG I’d check my suit and tie at the door – and roll up my sleeves. PSG desperately needs to empower vision at the top. They should think about installing creative design principles and Big D design thinking into the organization. There’s plenty of vision at HP, they just need to pull it together in a way that doesn’t solely involve rows and columns.

HP still has a chance to transform the organization into something great again.I really wish them well as they attempt to figure out this incredibly complex problem.