MY SAY: Getting back the HP way

MY SAY: Getting back the HP way

I offered a quiet cheer when the HP board showed Carly Fiorina the door last month. It was an overdue recognition that her tenure as CEO, while not entirely a disaster, was essentially a failure.

Her departure brought to mind a scenario that was proposed during the long battle over whether to buy Compaq, which pitted Fiorina against the son of one of the founders.

It went along the following lines: HP goes ahead and buys Compaq; HP then sells its printer business to Agilent Technologies. A spin-off from the old HP, Agilent focuses on the test and measurement businesses that were once core to HP operations; HP keeps the computer business and renames itself Compaq; Agilent renames itself HP.

The scenario made sense in a wickedly ironic sort of way, though it was obviously not on the cards at the time. It makes even more sense now, because HP is plainly flailing around for a strategy.

I can even suggest a CEO for the newly revived Compaq: its former CEO, Michael Capellas. He's been running telecommunications firm, MCI, which is selling itself to one of the big regional phone monopolies. So he'll be looking for something to do.

No doubt he's also a candidate for the top HP job. But whether anyone can manage the lumbering giant is an open question.

In fact, the future of the company began fading years ago, when the founders and their immediate successors left the scene. HP began losing its way when it began shedding the HP Way.

This has been ridiculed in recent years, but it meant something important. The founders knew the core of their company was a purpose, something more holistic than Wall Street's simple and craven hungers.

They believed, more than most tycoons, that a company exists not just for its shareholders, but also for its employees and the communities in which the company does business. There was a humanistic bent to their approach.

HP people were part of a corporate culture that frequently made them proud. It also made them loyal. Silicon Valley communities, and other places where the company had facilities, felt the benefits.

Under Fiorina, the HP Way was viewed as a vestige of a more naive time, an outmoded and even counterproductive way of doing business. And as the company shed its more humane ways, its employees and communities felt that process too.

One school of modern thought holds that we live in a time when humanistic concerns are irrelevant to corporate life or are even a detriment to success.

The HP that embraced more positive values has changed. But that HP is also missed.

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