William Hewlett teamed with David Packard to create one of the largest and most successful technology businesses in the world, the Hewlett-Packard Company. After an initial investment of $538 to set up shop in a garage, Hewlett and Packard worked to see their organization grow into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. The pair also became known for their management style, called "management by walking around," which was copied by other technology companies. In their walks, they made inpromptu visits and talked to employees of all levels, including non-management personnel.
Hewlett was born on May 20, 1913, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and grew up in San Francisco. Dyslexia prevented him from reading well, so he approached learning by disassembling common objects such as door locks and other mechanical devices and conducting experiments in chemistry. In 1930 Hewlett entered Stanford University, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in 1934. It was during this time that he and David Packard began a friendship that would last for sixty years.
Hewlett continued his education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a master of science degree in engineering. The last phase of his education was an advanced degree in engineering from Stanford, which he completed in 1939. That was also the year that he and Packard decided to form an electronics company in Palo Alto, California. With their initial $538 investment, a garage for a shop, and lots of ideas, the Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) was born. The name of the company (i.e., the order of their names) was determined in a coin toss. Hewlett took charge of product development, while Packard assumed marketing duties.
HP's initial products included a tuner for harmonicas, a self-flushing urinal, a shock machine to induce weight loss, and a foul line indicator for bowling alleys. The first successful product, the audio oscillator , was based on Hewlett's graduate research at Stanford. The oscillator provided a cheaper, easier way to generate audio frequencies, which made it useful for geological and medical instruments and military equipment. Walt Disney Studios, HP's first customer, used the oscillator to develop the unique sound track for the animated movie Fantasia, starring Mickey Mouse. The business was profitable and growing, and by the 1950s HP would become the dominant provider of electronic testing and measurement equipment.
During World War II, Hewlett served on the staff of the U.S. Army's chief signal officer, and then became head of the electronics section of the New Development Division of the War Department Special Staff. In this capacity, he was part of a special team that inspected Japanese industries at the end of the war. One benefit from his military service was meeting first-rate engineers whom he later recruited to work for his company. When he returned to HP at the end of the war, he became vice president of the company.
His military experience gave Hewlett insight into management styles. With Packard, he developed employee-oriented polices. The company pioneered such ideas as profit sharing, flextime, catastrophic health insurance, decentralized decision-making, open offices, and management by objective. When former employees started their own companies in Silicon Valley , they often instituted these same practices.
Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple Computer, credits Hewlett for his own start in life as an entrepreneur as well as for his own management style. Jobs contacted HP as a twelve-year-old looking for spare parts to construct a frequency counter. Not only did Hewlett provide the parts, but he also hired
Jobs for a summer position in the division that produced frequency counters. There are numerous other anecdotes about Hewlett and his generosity with others.
The first HP computer, Model 2116, was an automatic controller for measurement systems. Introduced in 1966, it was redesigned from a freestanding model to desktop size, marketed and sold as a calculator. Hewlett then challenged his engineers to further shrink the size to allow the device to fit into a shirt pocket. The resulting HP scientific calculator quickly replaced the slide rule as the computational device for scientists and engineers. Today the company is best known for its laser printers and scanners.
Hewlett's own interests went far beyond engineering. He was a modern-day renaissance man. He and his wife, Flora, established the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation which supports educational, environmental, arts and other programs. After Hewlett's death on January 12, 2001, the foundation was to receive a major portion of his estate in order to continue supporting these causes.
Hewlett was also instrumental in the founding of the Public Policy Institute of California, which researches economic, social, and political issues that impact the state. His interest in conservation led to his purchase of land on the shore of Lake Tahoe (located between California and Nevada) and deeding it to the U.S. Forest Service in order to prevent development along the pristine lake front. Hewlett was also an amateur botanist, and he photographed and catalogued many California wild flowers.
Hewlett held honorary degrees from numerous American colleges and universities, was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and served as trustee for various educational institutions. He also served as a member of the President's General Advisory Committee on Foreign Assistance Programs and the President's Science Advisory Committee during the Lyndon Johnson Administration. In 1985, he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Ronald Reagan.
see also Computers, Generations; IBM Corporation; Watson, Thomas J., Sr.
Bertha Kugelman Morimoto
"William Hewlett 1913–2001." Hewlett-Packard Company. <http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/hewlett/index2.htm>