What a Garage Reveals About HP’s Legacy

It was 2pm in the middle of the work day and I decided to go.

I left the manicured corporate campuses of Silicon Valley, oozing with modern art, sleek architectural designs, and breathless conversations about “disruption,” to go see a garage.

I found the garage tucked away from the noise on a quiet, tree-lined street near Stanford University. At 12 x 18 feet, it was just large enough to fit a single car, and stood behind a two-story shingle house.

The garage looked just like any other that might accompany one of the houses lining the street. Only a small, brown sign in the front yard suggested otherwise. The sign read, “Birthplace of ‘Silicon Valley,’” with the following description:

This garage is the birthplace of the world’s first high-technology region, “Silicon Valley.” The idea for such a region originated with Dr. Frederick Terman, a Stanford University professor who encouraged his students to start up their own electronics companies in the area instead of joining established firms in the East. The first two students to follow his advice were William R. Hewlett and David Packard.

In 1938, two college buddies, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, began part-time work in the rented garage—$45 per month—and used it as a research lab, workshop, and manufacturing facility for their early products. We all know where the story goes from there.

I leaned up against the black gate and just stared at the garage. I know this sounds strange, but I really believe I could “feel” the humility of the founders in the structure. It was simple, modest, and functional. It was Bill and Dave. I have long been an admirer of both men and the legacy they left. Hewlett-Packard (HP) has built many great products over the years, but for me, its greatest engineering feat was building the HP Way.

birthplace silicon

The HP Way

The HP Way was a set of guiding principles and tenets on how the company was to operate. Hewlett and Packard rejected the idea that a company exists merely to maximize profits.

“I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money,” Packard extolled to a group of HP managers on March 8, 1960. (Click to tweet this.) “While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper to find the real reasons for our being.”

The search for a greater purpose and meaning culminated in the HP Way: Do our products offer something unique? Are the communities in which we operate stronger and the lives of our employees better than they would be without us? Are lives improved because of what we do? If the answer to any of these questions was “no,” then Packard and Hewlett would deem HP a failure—no matter how much money the company returned to its shareholders.

Some people may read those words and eye-roll, thinking the ideas are naive and nostalgic. Things are different today—the competition is more intense, the markets are less patient, and expectations of performance are immediate. The prevailing idea is that today’s companies need to win now, at all costs, or there will be no tomorrow.

We see some companies who seek to eviscerate their rivals at any cost, companies who make statements that point to a lack of integrity at their core. Quotes from executives of these companies reveal misguided sentiment and a mission that is vastly different from the HP Way. A few examples of recent executive quotes from other companies include:

  • Hiring “four top opposition researchers and four journalists” to “help [the company] fight back against the press.” [1]
  • “I really don’t care what anyone other than our target customer thinks.” [2]
  • “Some people built their system with a Flash UI. I won’t mention Workday by name.”  [3]
  • “We knew that [our competition] was going to raise a ton of money… And we are going [to their investors], ‘Just so you know, we’re going to be fund-raising after this, so before you decide whether you want to invest in them, just make sure you know that we are going to be fund-raising immediately after.’ ” 

The HP Way is a unique embodiment of values and vision that do not exist within every company. I admire Bill and Dave for the HP Way they created, but I also don’t view them with rose-colored glasses. They’ve had their own share of ethical dilemmas and controversies over the years. But, as you move past the imperfections, you begin to see a genuine intent that stands out from many others.

The garage embodies this genuine intent: two men who endeavored to build a company anchored by something greater than profit.

About the Author

Chad Quinn

Chad Quinn

Chad is the president and founder of Ecosystems. For the last 15 years, Chad has led the organization, focusing on helping Fortune 500 companies set up Value Management Offices (VMOs) to quantify, capture, and report on business value. Chad’s passion is to impact the lives of others. At Ecosystems, he focuses on clarifying the impact of investments on business strategy and operations. Within his community, he focuses on the impact of local organizations while serving as the Chair of the McLean Community Center Governing Board.


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