Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bill and Dave by Michael S Malone ***

Bill & Dave, as anyone who grew up on Silicon Valley knows, is Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Michael S Malone's book is part history, part business advice and part hagiography.

Let's start with the history. You younger reader might not remember this, but in the early 1940's, most of the industrial world was blown to smithereens ... basically everything except the United States. This asymmetry meant laid the groundwork for the greatest period of economic success and expansion the United States has ever or will ever experience. HP was one of the many companies that benefited from this historical accident. This book chronicles how they internalized their success as unique and validation of genius, in spite of the later difficulties when a more normal conditions were restored.

The business advice. If you are a busy business person looking for advice, the author correctly assumes you don't want to wade through the swamp of praise and rationalization. The 100-200 business advice one-liners are collected in the back of the book with gems like:
In high tech especially, it is vital to be revolutionary, but dangerous to be Utopian.
Take care of your smallest clients - they may one day be your biggest.
And finally the hagiography. The case of beatification is stated over and over citing such miracles as an early foray in X-Y plotters (if you don't know, don't ask) laying the groundwork for PC printers, and desktop calculators doing the same for PCs. Assumptions only the faithful can believe.

I'm sure retired HPers will love the book, and other Silicon Valley veterans might enjoy the history, though it is biased and repetitive. Otherwise, not much to recommend it.

Disclosure: I benefited by HP's mismanagement in the 1980s when they became a source of well-trained engineers and managers for many Silicon Valley start-ups.

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