Remembering Early Times at HP

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My Years in HP Corporate PR, by Dave Kirby

- Part 4 -

The Later Years


Part 4 - Table of Contents:


4. The Later Years


Life with Anne and Our 50th Wedding Anniversary

This is an HP memoir, so my family life will be covered in another long document. Yet there were times when Anne and I were involved with the company. Anne had met Packard years before, and sometimes accompanied me to the Business Roundtable conferences, where we would see him at the social events. After Packard went to work at the Pentagon, he once came back to the Bay Area to give a speech. This inadvertently led to a memorable encounter between Anne and Packard.

Dave was scheduled to speak in Palo Alto, at the height of the Vietnam War. The government security people thought the antiwar protests in Palo Alto would be too great, so they moved the dinner speech to the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. There were fewer war protestors there. During the dinner, a Packard aide got word to me that he wanted three or four other HP executives and their wives to have an informal chat later up in his hotel suite.

At our 50th celebration. Where did those 50 years go?

So later we went up to his suite, and there were one or two Secret Service agents in the hallway. At one point, Anne was sitting on a couch and Packard sat down next to her and they started talking. I was across the room and I heard just a few words now and then to know she was talking to him about Vietnam. Well, Anne was a flaming liberal, as the saying goes, so I knew she was pressing him about the war. It made me uncomfortable because I didn't know how Packard was reacting to this, and I didn't have a chance to do anything about it. It just went on.

At the end of the evening, after we had been there about an hour, I got Anne's coat. Packard took it and helped her put it on. And he said, "Anne, this has been very useful to me. I've enjoyed it primarily because I'm isolated and I seldom get a chance to hear critics of the war." That was so typical of Packard to listen to an opposing point of view and be gracious about it. I knew that what he said to Anne was real and sincere.

Anne's interest in politics was expressed locally, too. In 1976, a young man rang the doorbell and Anne answered it. Joe Simitian, then just 23 years old, told Anne he was running for the Palo Alto School Board and asked for her support. She liked what he had to say, so she invited him in for coffee. Then she became his campaign co-chair. Simitian lost that election - the only one he would. He was subsequently elected to the PA School Board, the Palo Alto City Council, where he served as mayor, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the California State Assembly and State Senate.

When Anne passed away in 2010, Simitian gave an eloquent eulogy at her memorial service. Simitian's 1976 campaign wasn't Anne's first foray into politics, though. When Anne and I lived in Ladera, in 1964 before moving to Palo Alto, one of our neighbors was a young lawyer, Pete McCloskey, who was running for Congress. A moderate Republican, McCloskey won his party's primary election against a better-known candidate and then won in the general election. Anne became a very active volunteer on McCloskey's campaign staff. McCloskey served with distinction in Congress for almost 20 years.

I retired in 1989. Anne's health began to decline in the late 90s, she ended with macular degeneration and other serious medical problems. We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in 2010 and had a nice ceremony with our friends. She managed to live an additional three months after the celebration.

She had sharp pains in her back and she never wanted to go to the hospital. I argued with her, and she finally agreed to go. Then one week later she died of an aneurysm in her aorta. Which reminds me of the old joke, of the gravestone, which had the engraving, "I told you I was sick!" I should probably re-quote that to be, "I told you, YOU were sick!"

The Kirbys of Palo Alto; Anne, Dan, Rachel, Dave and John.


How could anyone be this lucky; a loving wife of 50 years, great
children and grandchildren, and a job like none in the world?.

Looking Back

I retired in 1989, but stayed somewhat active with the writing of Dave Packard's book, which published in 1995. I was also retained for PR work at the Dave and Lucile Packard Foundation for several years, so I kept up with company operations and politics. As John Young retired at age 60, Packard definitely wanted a change, so he didn't bend the 60-year retirement age rules. And since he was still board chairman, he had a candidate in mind. Dick Hackborn managed the company's facility in Boise, Idaho that produced HP laser-jet office printers. He made a real mark by getting us into the printer business, which was a big deal. Packard essentially asked Dick Hackborn to become CEO, although hardly anyone knew this. But Hackborn turned it down because he wanted to stay in Boise. He and his family had become enamored of the Boise area.

That left Lew Platt to replace John Young as CEO in 1992. His reign was relatively brief. He was considered a great people person, but the company was getting more bureaucratic and stagnant. It had changed from Young to Platt, and had less energy and inventiveness. In fact, Platt was instrumental in spinning off its traditional measurement divisions into a separate company, known as Agilent in 2000. It felt odd to me and others from the old days because it was Agilent that made the scientific instruments that HP had become famous for. The ''new'' HP built computers and printers, with little connection to its storied past. A lot of people including me thought that Agilent should have been named Hewlett-Packard and Hewlett-Packard named something else.

Platt had brought the company forward through the transition to computers, which had begun under Young. Now, it was a largely a consumer-market company, but Platt wasn't considered aggressive enough in pushing forward. Also as the company grew, it was less HP Way. The board of directors was becoming restless and wanted to replace Lew. So HP went outside for a leader, for the first time since its founding in 1939.

Hackborn, who was also on the HP Board, had become captivated by young, rising star at AT&T, a Stanford grad named Carly Fiorina. With some fanfare, she was hired as the new CEO, making her one of the most prominent women in American business. And Fiorina could dazzle a room. The timing was such that the annual HP stockholder meeting occurred shortly after Carly arrived. I went to the meeting and I was terribly impressed. She came on the stage without any notes and started talking. Her whole manner was top-drawer. She was very attractive, her manner of speaking was very effective, and people liked what they were hearing. It was the whole package. I came away thinking, boy, HP has hit the jackpot with this CEO.

Fiorina became the brand of the company, she was on the cover of business magazines, and was a certifiable national business celebrity. But she roiled the HP waters by pushing through a massive merger with another personal computer company, Compaq, based in Texas, which several board members opposed. The opposition included family descendents of Hewlett and Packard. A few years later, Fiorina alienated enough members of her board to get fired.

Thinking back to the first shareholder meeting where Fiorina had captivated an auditorium packed with investors, little did I, or anyone, know that she had a huge ego. She essentially didn't care at all about employees. Instead, she went around the country talking to corporate customers. She was the top woman executive in the country, but elements on the board desperately wanted her to pay more attention to the company. Fiorina was pushed to hire a chief operating officer, or COO, to take care of day-to-day business operations while she concentrated on the big picture and on marketing, which is where her talents really stood out. But Fiorina resisted the idea and was dismissed.

Summing up my 27 years at HP, in my wildest dreams I couldn't imagine a more wonderful career. First, I had a key position at what Fortune magazine described as "the most admired company in America." It was described that way not once but often over several years. Second, because of the reputation of the company and its hiring practices, I was able to recruit several top-flight public relations people, a group of skilled and spirited people who went the extra mile to advance the interests of HP.

Third, I worked for Dave Packard, an extraordinary human being. Dave, as everyone called him, was renowned throughout the nation's business community for his unmatched leadership. He was wise, he was caring, and he brought out the best in everyone working for him. He was beloved by all at HP. It's no wonder that I was excited to go to work every morning. I was blessed to have the best boss and the best public relations job in the country.



Wouldn't you think that a man who had been writing all of his life, starting as editor of his high school newspaper, through 27 years of Hewlett-Packard PR, would sit down in his retirement years and write his life story? Well, yes and no. For the first five years into my retirement, Karen Lewis and I were busy writing and editing Dave Packard's book, The HP Way. After that, I just didn't think much about my life story, always figuring that there would be plenty of time later. But then Anne's health deteriorated, which meant that I had a lot of my attention and time taken up with her caregiving.

I lost Anne in 2010. At that point, I did start working with a biographer to record my life. Then, separately, in late 2013, John Minck came along and encouraged me to contribute to an oral history of my HP life. John has been very active with a retired French HP Field Engineer, Marc Mislanghe, in compiling a wonderful archive of HP memoirs online. These are all available at

It has been an enjoyable experience to sit with John and tell my story, while we relived and laughed about so many of the funny and human incidents that took place inside HP over all those decades of high-tech history. We knew we were building a company that was not like any other, in terms of its work culture and humane management. Dave and Bill really did worry about their employees and it showed in the remarkable loyalty and memories of every retiree to this day, in spite of some very visible problems in the 21st Century.

I'd also like to thank the first biographer, Don Kazak, for my more family-oriented life story. During numerous interviews, he created a fine 145-page memoir that combined my family and HP history. I have excerpted a number of anecdotes and stories from Don's work into this HP memoir, because they nicely expand the memories of my career and life at HP.

Finally, I want to acknowledge Karen Lewis, one of my most helpful colleagues who worked at the HP/Agilent archives, who agreed to review this memoir. Karen supplied the encouragement to get me going on Dave Packard's book, The HP Way. She contributed greatly and co-edited the work.

I'm hoping that this HP memoir of mine will add to the wonderful history of a company we all love.


Portola Valley, CA
March, 2014


Dave Kirby


My Years in HP Corporate PR, by Dave Kirby

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