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David Packard, age 83, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, passed away on March 25. Like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," a study of David Packard's life illustrates how one man can touch many people and make a real difference. Through his pioneering work as an engineer, business leader, and philanthropist, Mr. Packard did many good things that affected a great number of people.

Without David Packard you wouldn't be using an HP Palmtop, and I wouldn't be publishing this journal. Similarly, the lives of millions of HP customers using thousands of HP products over the past 57 years would be poorer without the company's innovative products. Without David Packard, hundreds upon hundreds of companies such as mine, staffed by former HP employees or based on HP products, wouldn't exist. There is not an orthodontist, architect, or sports car salesman in Silicon Valley today who has not been an indirect beneficiary of Packard.

But that is only the beginning of David Packard's influence. The management principles, "the HP Way," the way Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard chose to treat their employees, has served as a model for other companies, including ours. Hewlett and Packard created the concept of a modern benevolent corporation where the bottom line was to treat people right. They put trust and respect for individuals first; encouraged flexibility, teamwork, integrity and the creation of profitable, innovative products that met the needs of customers.

Among their management innovations were policies like sharing profits with employees, consensus management, growing conservatively from profits rather than risky debt, providing employees insurance for catastrophic medical care, developing alternatives to layoffs and giving back to the community. As the company grew, HP kept its small company feeling by decentralized decision-making, and by maintaining close communication with all levels of employees thanks to open-door policies and "management by wandering around." HP office buildings are still laid out in open desks with few doors or walls separating employees from even top level managers.

From the start HP hired the most talented individuals fresh out of the university and gave them as much responsibility as they could handle. When these talented engineers wanted to start out on their own, they did so with HP's blessing. And if they failed, they were welcomed back. This policy helped to spawn Silicon Valley, and it is not surprising that HP has an excellent relationship with many of its neighboring companies, even in these cutthroat times.

In the process David Packard and Bill Hewlett accumulated great wealth. They set up foundations, primarily to give electronic equipment to educational institutions. David Packard in his later years set up his own foundation funded by his personal fortune. All told David Packard gave billions of dollars away in ways that invested in the future.

Who says one man can't make a difference? David Packard's influence will continue well into the next century.

Hal Goldstein

iPhone Life magazine

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