Remembering Early Times at HP

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HP Memories


My Years in HP Corporate PR, by Dave Kirby


Measure Magazine chronicled HP life and work culture from 1963 to 2000, my proudest accomplishment.
Past Editors gathered for the final issue in June, 2000; (l to r) Myself, Jay Coleman, Brad Whitworth, Gordon Brown,
and Jean Burke Hoppe. The entire archive of 309 issues is accessible by Googling HP Measure Magazine.
Photo by Anne Knudsen, Courtesy of Measure Magazine.



Curator Note

Timing is everything.

At times since the 2006 launch of this archive, Editor John Minck encouraged Dave Kirby to write his own HP memoir about his life at HP. Dave did write the first chapter, then engaged a professional biographer to complete a long family-centric story. But in January, 2014, for his own reasons, Dave invited John to begin some oral history interviews for a more HP-centric story. By March, their draft was nearing completion, and Dave allowed John to read the earlier work. John was able to excerpt some additional facts and anecdotal events for this HP memoir.

John visited Dave on March 6 to review those additions, and at the end, they both agreed that they were done. Dave then directed John to have Karen Lewis do a content and edit review of that final draft. Karen and Dave had been collaborators with Dave Packard on his book, The HP Way, in the early 1990s. That weekend, Dave fell and went into Stanford Hospital, and then returned to his room at the Sequoias. Karen used the following week to make corrections and changes, and John integrated them. But before John  could tell Dave he was done, Dave died on March 15. Timing IS everything.

Dave's children, Daniel, Rachel, and John have approved this web publication of their Dad's fascinating life story. His high school Journalism teacher, John George, and Typing teacher, Lois Walker, would have appreciated their role in his life too.






Mr. HP Corporate PR - Dave Kirby


What image does the term corporate PR conjure in your mind? In these years of the 21st Century, it might speak of the Enron corporate executives spinning the collapsing integrity of their failing company. It might be the BP Oil press people more-than-subtlety trying to place blame for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster on somebody else. Or some merchandiser’s PR folks trying to minimize the public impact of a million stolen personal IDs information.

But in the middle of the 20th Century, Corporate PR Managers like Dave Kirby sat next to the corridors of power at Hewlett-Packard (well, HP didn't actually have corridors). Dave had regular weekly meetings with Bill and the other Dave, and he oversaw the ESSENTIAL integrity of those Founders in the HP corporate news that he promulgated. The PR business of those days was to express the soul of the company in its products and people and events, including the always-critical financial story.

By living on the inside of the corporate circle, Dave's HP Memories brings us some real insight to the founders and all the other key people who made HP interesting. His humorous anecdotes of those many decades speak of real human beings with passions and foibles just like us. Dave tells of his experience in New York City, on the 1961 morning, when HP was going to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, a truly important milestone. The HP team stayed at the Essex House, uptown on Central Park South, by Broadway. Who knows why, but it seemed that Packard decided that it would be a good idea to beat the traffic using cabs and just take the subway down to Wall Street. Bad idea. It was not obvious to him that a transfer of subway lines was needed, and they ended up in Brooklyn. So the HP party arrived late for their own NYSE coming-out party.

Dave's inside position also gave him plenty of humorous management content when he and John Chognard, the HP Patent Attorney, and other mid-managers co-authored the irreverent (but very funny) banquet posters for the annual Monterey Management Conferences. A sampling of these posters are shown in the HP Narrative written by John Minck and a few more (suitable for family reading) are reproduced herewith in Dave's HP Memory.

Corporal Kirby was a WWII company clerk, who in January 1945, caught up and served with General George Patton's Third Army as it moved in to clean up after the German counterattack was stopped at the Battle of the Bulge. In just a few months, he celebrated  V-E Day in Luxembourg. And then his ability to type landed him a welcome job in post-war Paris. He attributes his selection as company clerk to his high school typing teacher, Lois Walker, who got him snapped up from rifleman into company headquarters, "Eyes on the copy!" was the teacher's command.

His wartime experience was similar to so many other HP senior personnel who served in the WWII military. His post-Cal/Berkeley PR work with a number of Bay Area companies, San Francisco News, the Bechtel Corporation, Wine Institute, Kaiser Aluminum and L.C. Cole Advertising, might gain him a reputation as a PR Mercenary. Or a man with a "Checkered" job history. But instead, it was all excellent experience in big Bay Area companies that did a lot of strategic things right and super-successfully. They were particularly adept at massive contributions to the WWII war industrialization, first building their shipbuilding facilities with astounding speed. And then turning out between them 1000 freighters and tankers to win the war with logistics. The other jobs like Cole Advertising/PR agency further advanced his PR skills, before signing on with Hewlett-Packard.

But HP would become a PR professional's dream job. Imagine being able to tell the corporate stories of such an EXTRAORDINARY HIGH TECH company which had no peer in the last half of the 20th century. No need to spin anything. Everything was true. Everything was OUR company. It was decades of good feelings about the company we chose as our career. Dave chronicled all those experiences with panache. This memoir reveals what went on inside at the top management levels.

One of the best parts about Dave's story is the section he devotes to describing the true personalities of these exceptional leaders, Dave and Bill. His insight to the people who had a vision of a company which recognized the trust in their workers, who could unleash enormous creativity from the bottom up with their Management by Objective. Or who practiced the highly effective, Management by Walking Around, which assured that everyone up and down the management ladder knew they were interested in the individuals.

Dave's proudest accomplishment was the creation of Measure Magazine, the employee communications monthly, which he rolled out in 1963, and which recorded the fascinating history of our remarkable company as we lived it. Measure continued until the HP--Agilent separation in 2000. All of those hundreds of issues are archived on HP's website, and reveal the genius of Bill and Dave's management principles in employee satisfaction. The very last commemorative issue of May, 2000, went to 74 pages, and presented an amazing historical look over all those decades and the stories of HP people and events and products.

Remember also that our Dave Kirby, along with Karen Lewis, was the ghost writer for Dave Packard's best-selling management book, The HP Way, How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company. I have tried to visualize putting my words into the mouth of Dave Packard, like Dave Kirby did, and must admit that it would take a VERY unique individual to make that work. Dave Kirby did make it work. The Packard book became a classic management reference book on creating a human-level work culture, while still growing over many decades to become a 120+ billion global enterprise.


John Minck



My Years in HP Corporate PR, by Dave Kirby


Table of Contents:


acro_off    Click here to download Dave's memories in PDF format - The 60 pages document is a 2.5 Mb PDF file.




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