The HP Way

When Carly Fiorina became the CEO of Hewlett Packard, she came into a company steeped with great ideas (both at a cultural level and in terms of long term strategy), an amazing history and some of the most creative people in technology. Things were far from perfect, but the company generally had a strong business model, mostly well respected products and an incredibly loyal and talented workforce.

To say that Carly did not take the time to understand the strengths of her company would be an extreme understatement.

I got to meet her a couple of times and got to see her present many times, and the feeling I came away with from each interaction was the same; It’s not that her ideas were terrible (they were not), but an ability to get her subordinates to follow her direction was almost non-existent. Great leaders always spend the time to understand what it will take to make change, and this always starts with trying to understand the motivation of those that you need to change. I don’t care if you are Stalin or the Dali Lama you need a plan, either to convince or bully.

Carly did neither, she would state her idea, and just blindly assume that it was accepted. And I saw general manager after general manager blatantly ignore her, and just do what they wanted without any consequence.

This lead to massive fragmentation, with different parts of the company doing entirely different things. At the time, I thought this was weird, now I know (from decades of experience) it was the expected result of very weak leadership. I’ve seen other weak leaders since then, but none who were is such a high position.

Growing through merger and acquisition is fraught with issues. In a large percentage of M&A situations the result of one plus one is close to one. In other words the resulting merged company ends up being no bigger than the biggest of the merged parts. To me this is the definition of failure. If you merge two companies and reduce the joint workforce to the size of the previous largest part, and you lose customers and talent such that the resulting revenue is about the same as the largest of the two previous companies and your ability to do new things is about the same as the previous largest of the two companies, then you have failed.

In the case of HP and it’s Fiorina-tenured M&A strategy this is what I believe happened. Billions were wasted, and lead to increased debt that the new business has to service. Less people had jobs, customers were pissed off, and the resultant new company was far less cohesive (split cultural ideas).

In my view Carly Fiorina was a disastrous CEO for HP. I know she doesn’t see it that way, but speak with those who were there at the time, that’s exactly how it seemed to us.

So when she stands up and says she has the talent to be POTUS, and she uses HP as her one and only proof point, it doesn’t work for me.

She needs to apologize to the memory of Bill and Dave

(148)

I hate the culture of indecision

I’m a big believer in the power of doing stuff. Doing anything is good, if it turns out in doing something you made a mistake, well then you do something else to fix it and move on, with increased knowledge.

When you do something the worst that can happen is that it turns out to be the wrong thing, and so you have to work a bit harder to fix it, and then do the right thing. But you did it, whatever it was and the world kept on turning and (generally) no one died in the process.

Of course I’ve making a generalization here, but I believe people have the best intentions when they do something, pretty much anything, and when guided by your common sense and knowledge of a situation, the chances are you are doing the right thing.

In most situations where there are two (or more) choices the worst thing you can do in nothing. It’s of course entirely possible that doing nothing was the right choice, but in my experience., doing nothing is only the right choice in a very small percentage of times. But it’s the choice taken far too often.

In business and in most personal and decision making situations people who are scared of their own shadows tend to want to analyze a situation continually, as a way of avoiding decisions.

There is an old saying “look before you leap”, but there is equally another saying “he who hesitates is lost”. The ability to make a decision before absolutely every possible choice has eroded over time is the mark of a leader. Being able to take a calculated risk, is what separates those who life a valuable and full rewarding life from those who do not.

All of the greatest world leaders, business leaders, visionaries and successful people have known and act this way. It’s okay to make a mistake; it’s generally not okay to not do anything.

Without risk, despots would never have been defeated, amazing feats of engineering would never have been achieved, and the most creative businesses and geniuses would never have reached their highest levels of success.

Winston Churchill’s life was full of decisions that he made that proved to be wrong, from which he learnt his greatest lessons in humility, leadership and eventual greatness.

Many mistakes were made politically and scientifically before a man made it to the moon and back, and the lessons that were learnt lead to decades of amazing advancement in all the fields of science.
I had the honor of sitting down with each of the two founders of Hewlett Packard many years ago, and Dave Packard told me that the secret of their success lay in the simple idea of trying several really big things at a time, with the full knowledge that some of them would fail. But he was confident that the ones that would work would pay for all the research they have invest in and all the projects that had failed as well.

And he knew that the people who worked on the things that failed would be the experience that would make the successes for their company in the future. For decades HP was a company that thrived on leading the technology of the world into new areas. It was only after Bill and Dave became too old to run the company that this model slowly changed. And their company became very risk averse. They still made amazing technology, but then it was just iterations and improvements on what everyone else is doing.

They have tried many times since then to reignite the flame of innovative risk, and I truly hope they succeed.

Whenever a business chooses to eliminate all risk entirely they are forced to stop innovating and instead focus purely on efficiency.

In the paraphrased words of Peter Drucker (one of the most amazing management consultants the world has ever seen) “the role of a company is to create and keep customers, only once they can do this well, should they look at creating and keeping customers efficiently and effectively”

The bottom line is you need to truly understand why you do what you do before you worry about doing it well. If you limit what you do to just focusing on something well, you will never be able to do anything new.

If you are driving your car on the highway, and the road splits in two, you need to make a decision and make it before you hit the barrier. That’s taking a calculated risk. If you turn left and it turns out that right was the right answer, well you take the next exit come back and do it again. But if you keep going down the middle line and don’t make a decision you will crash. It happens.

In life and in business if you see people who are unable to make any form of decision, and use every technique possible to avoid looking like they are unable to make a decision, then you are looking at someone with very low self-esteem. I call the inability to make a decision “making an indecision”.

Not everyone is able to make decisions, some people work best as followers, and that’s fine, so long as they are not in positions where making indecisions effects others.

Know indecision makers for what they are!

(153)

(717)