David Packard, one of the original founders of Hewlett-Packard, appears to have two goals for The HP Way: that of a memoir and a medium for explaining his method of management. He succeeds as a memoir, describing his formative years, then his short career at GE, the beginnings of HP, and finally various stories connected with management principles. Like most memoirs, this one is easy to read and interesting, as Packard has the benefit of many years to contemplate most of these experiences and does not burden the reader with the many worries and fears that surely accompanied the actual events. Although Bill Hewlett is occassionally mentioned, the book mostly conveys who David Packard was, an engineer with a talent for managing, a man of the American West who loves ranching and nature, and a man who values relationships.

Throughout the book are references to “the HP Way”, the managerial values of HP. These values are explained in a remembrance style, almost as if Packard remembered that he had not talked about a particular subject yet so he will talk about it now. Although the structure is somewhat less than coherent and, in fact, the principles are overwhelmed by the examples, by the end of the book a consistent picture emerges that the “HP Way” is composed primarily of innovation and concern for people. Unlike the commercial buzzword that innovation has become, Packard stresses the importance of true innovation: creating something that pushes the edges of what is available, usually in a technological fashion for HP although sometimes in a manufacturing standpoint as well. While innovation describes the products, concern for people describes the managerial style. Hewlett and Packard considered it their duty to provide steady and secure employment in return for the efforts of their employees, especially at a time when companies considered labor to be disposable.

HP’s concern for people extended beyond a secure job, however. HP management is described as placing a high value on treating employees almost as friends. People are referred to as much as possible on an informal, first name basis. Engineering teams are encouraged to work independently to create products that they feel live up to HP standards. Supplies are freely available and employees are trusted to use them honestly. Company and departmental picnics to help management get to know employees are an annual tradition. The company even purchased land for employees’ use as vacation spots. Much of the HP Way is about treating employees as people.

As a managerial memoir The HP Way describes the history and principles of the Hewlett-Packard Company in interesting and entertaining fashion. It touches on the important mangerial values of Packard, innovation and relationships, and provides a fairly complete set of principles and examples . Sometimes important principles come in a casual package and while The HP Way is by no means a managerial handbook, the comments by the founder of the one of the best technology companies or the twentieth century1 are certainly well worth reading.

1  While Packard would have supported the Agilent spinoff as an application of his principle of keeping divisions small and manageable, he would most likely have decried the HP-Compaq merger as an example of corporate ego-acquisition (or perhaps, the career builder of Carly Fiorina), as evidenced by his statement “Bill and I had no desire to see HP become a conglomerate, since, as I’ve already pointed out, more companies die from indigestion than starvation.” (pg. 142)
Review: 8
(Rates as 9 for a memoir, but the title suggests the primary content is the HP Way. In fact, each managerial principle is only briefly touched upon. Many examples are given, but often the storytelling obscures the purpose of the example.)