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"Bill and Dave" highlights local business legends

Here is a home-town book if ever there was one, a book that has a pretty good chance of making you proud of someone you know. "Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World's Greatest Company" by Michael S. Malone (Portfolio/Penguin, 2007) is about our friends, relatives and neighbors in Los Altos.

Did Dave Packard live in your neighborhood? Do you hang out with Art Fong's grandchildren Kelly and Michael? Did you go to Terman Middle School? If you can read this book without finding a name you recognize, you probably have not lived here very long.

"Bill & Dave" could more appropriately have been called "Bill & Dave & 15 Dozen Other People." Although this book is meant to be a character study of the two men, Malone writes about many people who helped Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard build their company. A reader won't find every name from the last century of Los Altos history, but more than fifty local figures make it into the book.

Sometimes there is even too much - do we really need to know the life stories of Bill and Dave's childhood friends? Malone's mathematical proofs of each point made me want to skip to his conclusions. If you have been following my reviews, you know I do not subscribe to the concept that a bigger book is a better book. With a big book, I always wind up thinking, "they should have hired me to cut this thing down." Still, in Malone's defense, there are a lot of people who will be glad he took the space to remember them.

Writing about a cast of many local characters makes sense in relation to the main theme- Hewlett-Packard is one of the world's greatest companies because Hewlett and Packard were geniuses at getting people to work with them, and the core of that genius was respect for their workers. They would have wanted everybody to be mentioned, which would have required a work of encyclopedic dimensions.

Even though Packard was a prominent Republican, serving as Deputy Secretary of Defense in Nixon's cabinet, he and Hewlett had what is sometimes considered to be a Democrat's view of their workers - they loved them. HP pioneered some of the most worker-friendly policies in the history of corporations.

They believed that their employees could be trusted. In exchange for that trust, HP employees performed brilliantly.

According to Malone, HP invented flex-time and stock options. "Bill and Dave …decided that every HP employee should participate in the company's success …What seemed mere common decency to Bill and Dave was in fact the birth of corporate profit sharing, one of the most important sources of wealth distribution in the modern economy."

Hewlett and Packard met as students on the Standford football team, where Dave was a star and Bill was not. That background may have been the foundation of their belief in teamwork.

They were both students of Fred Terman, who inspired them and helped them get started in business. Terman also initiated Stanford Business Park and was the keystone to Stanford's now famous engineering department. Silicon Valley rests on Fred Terman's foundation.

Bill struggled through Stanford with extreme dyslexia before anybody knew what dyslexia was. He got by on genius combined with an ability to listen, a talent that later helped him listen to his employees.

Bill and Dave started their business before they knew exactly what they were going to do. They had no initial product idea. They just knew they could work together and would compliment each other's strengths and weaknesses. They shared a faith in people, solid moral convictions, and an interest in making money. They were committed to fairness, honesty, and profit.

The two young men combined engineering brilliance with inventiveness and good business sense. They built a business Malone describes as innovative, enlightened, adaptive and fair. Affable and easy to work with, they attracted great talent and engendered loyalty.

One of their first hires, Art Fong, who was also the first Asian-American engineer in Silicon Valley, stayed with them for many decades, as did most of their employees. Malone wrote, "Of this group, the men who would run HP during its golden age, the most important was Art Fong-the nonagenarian former vice president who would shuffle through the restored Addison garage as the last surviving 'founder.'"

Writing about Fred Terman Malone says, "And, like all great teachers, Terman knew how to keep things simple." One wishes Malone did. The book isn't too technical-technical information is kept to a minimum-the book is just too wordy. The reader can see that he did a phenomenal amount of research.

Malone comes from a distinguished career in journalism. Perhaps he thought that book authorship granted him license to include every fact he found, and be careless about repetition.

Nevertheless, it's worth reading. After a slow beginning, the book gathers momentum and becomes surprisingly interesting.

"Bill & Dave" is available at Kepler's Books and Magazines and keplers.com. Pam Walatka can be reached through www.pamwaltka.com.

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