Enough, for God's Sake, of the Hurd Mentality

Anniversary #25 of In Search of Excellence. Our favorite company on our list of 43? In a cakewalk, Hewlett-Packard, our hometown pals. Since 1982, when HP was an instrument company with about $1 billion in revenue (real $$ in '82, IBM was about $10 billion), the firm has gone through numerous transformations, including hiring Stanford MBAs to add strategy and marketing to its engineering prowess, and then, courtesy David Packard's astounding foresight, becoming a computer company by, initially, stealing some of IBM's best research talent.

More followed, and the New York Times yesterday proclaimed that HP had hit the $100 billion mark, and the final nudge had been great design! ("Design Helps H.P. Profit More on PCs.") The genius who replaced "ditzy" Carly Fiorina, Mark Hurd, brought home the bacon, and on the design side it had happened when he poached some dude from Palm. A few weeks before, the Wall Street Journal had been equally breathless in praise of Hurd as the guy who scaled (scale, that is size) computerworld's Mt Everest.

I have no doubt Hurd is a fine operating exec. Moreover he did reestablish much of the decentralization that had slipped under Ms Fiorina. (She had good reason to centralize, but I am a congenital decentralizer who can never excuse moves, no matter how apparently legit, toward central control.)

But, as I said in my title to this Post, "Enough, for God's Sake."

Consider two questions:

Q: Why is HP "enormous"?
A: Carly's much contested Compaq acquisition. I supported it then, as I couldn't see HP prospering as essentially Xerox Lite, and I support it now. Carly poured heart and soul and guts and reputation into pushing the merger, including overcoming the shameful tactics of Hewlett Jr and Packard Jr. If HP is the "biggest guy on the block" in 2007, benefiting from PC sales, the "first 98%" of the credit goes to Fiorina, not Hurd. PERIOD.

Q: Why is HP a nouveau design star?
A: Good God, it ain't the Palm guy, who may be very good, and it sure as hell ain't dreary Mr Hurd. Carly brought, again with deafening criticism by the engineers, style to a previously 100% style-free HP. PERIOD.

I am not taking away from Mr Hurd's operating performance, which probably exceeds Fiorina's. But if we are primarily celebrating HP's megabulk, as the heavy in computerworld, and its fashion consciousness as engine of soaring PC margins and profits, then we are celebrating Carly Fiorina. As I said ... PERIOD.

Enough!