Hewlett, William R

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William R. Hewlett is the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), the second largest computer company in the world, behind IBM Corp. Along with partner David Packard, Hewlett was instrumental in growing the California-based firm from a small manufacturer of measurement instruments into a personal computer and printer powerhouse that reached $49 billion in sales in 2000. Lauded for their innovative management style, which fostered creativity and open communications between employees and managers, Hewlett and Packard are considered two of the fathers of Silicon Valley.

A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hewlett earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford University, where he first met Packard, in 1934. After completing his Master's degree in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hewlett returned to California, earning an additional engineering degree from Stanford in 1939. The previous year, he and Packard started a business in the garage of a home Packard was renting in Palo Alto. The partners launched operations with just $538 in capital. Their first major product was a resistance capacity audio oscillator (HP 200A), essentially a sound equipment testing device, that Hewlett devised as a graduate student. Hewlett's advisor at Stanford, Frederick Terman, encouraged the partners to market the oscillator, and this advice proved well heeded when Walt Disney ordered eight of the new oscillators for the production of Fantasia. Hewlett and Packard officially established their firm in January of 1939 as Hewlett-Packard Co. Hewlett's name was positioned first because he won a coin toss that he and Packard agreed would decide the issue.

When Hewlett returned to Palo Alto after serving in World War II, he was named vice president of HP. It was at this time that he and Packard began setting in motion the innovative management policies that would later earn them accolades. For example, HP's Open Door Policy was designed to help all employees feel comfortable enough to communicate their ideas and concerns to management. To this end, Hewlett placed employees in open cubicles and created offices without doors for executives. He also oversaw HP's decision to become one of the first firms to add profit sharing to the compensation package it offered employees. After working as executive vice president from 1957 to 1964, Hewlett took over as president. By then, Hewlett and Packard's management style had become known as the "HP Way." According to Jeff Bliss, writer for Computer Reseller News, it was the HP Way that fueled the growth of Silicon Valley, because it was the HP Way that began attracting East Coast technology experts to California. "The best talent at Eastern institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Bell Labs took notice, and the Western migration of the country's technological brain trust began. The environment awaiting these scientists, teachers, and engineers could not have been more conducive to encouraging technology."

Hewlett added CEO to his list of titles in 1969, when Packard left the firm to serve as Secretary of Defense for the Nixon administration. One of Hewlett's first decisions at the helm of HP was to further decentralize the firm. The divisions had been operating fairly autonomously since the late 1950s. Each department oversaw its own research and development, manufacturing, and marketing operations. Wanting to preserve the company's entrepreneurial spirit, Hewlett and Packard also decided that each time a group reached 1,500 employees, it would be split in two. To decentralize this structure even further, Hewlett pushed decision-making authority down the executive chain, granting the control previously held by executive vice presidents to the general managers who supervised divisions with associated product lines.

With Hewlett at the reigns, HP unveiled its first blockbuster product, the world's first handheld scientific calculator, known as the HP 35, in 1972. He also oversaw HP's move into the business computer market with the launch of the HP 3000 minicomputer and the decision to eliminate time clocks and offer flexible work hours to employees. Hewlett served as both president and CEO until 1977 and as CEO only until 1978; between 1978 and 1983, Hewlett acted as chairman. HP created its first personal computer, the HP-85, in 1980, and its first desktop mainframe machine, the HP 9000, in 1982.

Hewlett reduced his activity in the firm in 1983, when he took on the role of vice chairman. The following year, HP launched its LaserJet printer, which became its most successful product ever. While Hewlett was no longer in charge of day-to-day operations when the printer was unveiled, he certainly played a role in fostering the environment out of which such a product was conceived. For his contributions to science and technology, Hewlett was awarded the National Medal of Science by Ronald Reagan in 1985. In 1987, he was named chairman emeritus, a role he retained until his death in January of 2001.


Akin, David. "Hewlett Helped Define Silicon Valley Success." National Post, January 13, 2001, D6.

Bliss, Jeff. "William Hewlett." Computer Reseller News, November 16, 1997, 45.

Hewlett-Packard Co. "History and Facts." Palo Alto, CA: Hewlett-Packard Co., 2001 Available from www.hp.com/hpinfo/abouthp/histnfacts.htm.

Hewlett-Packard Co. "William R. Hewlett." Palo Alto, CA: Hewlett-Packard Co., 2001 Available from www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/bios/hewlett.htm.

"Hewlett-Packard Co." In Notable Corporate Chronologies. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1999.

SEE ALSO: Hewlett-Packard Co.; Packard, David