HP People Stories - Noel Porter

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Noel (Ed) Porter
His Honor, Mayor of Palo Alto

 

Noel Porter was truly one of the most unforgettable characters among our unique HP managers in our great company. Ed was a Stanford classmate of Bill and Dave (and a radio tech buddy of Barney). They asked him to join them in their business during the war, but he was a Navy officer and couldn't join until discharged. He was famous as a kid for being selected by GE as "the smartest kid in California," by getting the top score in a test they gave throughout the state. It was said that Bill Hewlett, who was in the U.S. Army, posted to the Pentagon during WWII, recommended Ed to the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships, where he served in the infrared engineering dept.

Long before John Doyle coined the term, MBWA (Management by Walking Around) in the 1960s, Ed was an ever-present manager out in the production areas every day. It was second nature to him to be out talking with employees, a people person, keeping directly informed about production problems, in all its aspects. Certainly Porter was popular with the assembly force, and all knew him personally.

Ed was an enormously-talented man, as demonstrated by his ability to run HP manufacturing during some of our fastest growth years AT THE SAME TIME he was active on the Palo Alto City Council for two 6-year terms, followed by 5 consecutive 1-year terms as Palo Alto Mayor. He was an amazingly-fast thinker, and sort of flamboyant in his personal style. In his own way, he was a genius in being able to juggle these difficult jobs together. He would spend the mornings at HP, running the plant. Then he went to city hall for the afternoons to run the city. Evenings, he would return to the plant, reading operational correspondence, and typing small 4 x 6 "Portergrams" to everyone that needed jogging, using his two-finger typing method.

Ed was the son of a Palo Alto Episcopal minister, which always gave us some amusement, because he was rather well known to imbibe (occasionally). In fact, the well-known wall posters which appeared at the annual management conference in Monterey, once mentioned Ed's drinking at his expense. The poster showed a typical company conference room, with Porter seated at the table, and a look of impatience on his face in the candid photo. The humorous caption said, "I wonder when the bar opens?"

Porter Campaign poster, 1959

As Mayor of Palo Alto, Ed presided over enormous changes to the character of what was a sleepy college town at the end of WWII. His vision was to build a healthy industrial and commercial base that solidified city finances for years to come. Two major accomplishments were the highly successful Stanford Shopping Center and working with Fred Terman to create the Stanford Industrial Park.

Porter also was instrumental in the development of the new Palo Alto/Stanford Hospital, which was built when Stanford moved their Medical School from San Francisco to the campus. A more controversial development was the creation of the Oregon Expressway and railroad underpass to improve crosstown traffic flow from the Industrial Park to Bayshore Freeway. This boulevard called for the removal of 90 homes, and led to a split on the City Council and an election referendum which showed the close divisions in the voters, passing 9300 to 9000.

I also recall Ed's friendly attitude to every employee. In the 1960's, my family began an annual summer vacation ritual with a week at Meek's Bay Resort on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. It seems that the Porter family had owned a large shore-side estate up near Tahoe City for several generations, and Ed would open the estate to the HP Sailing Club for several days of regatta, about that time in the late summer. Although my family was not into sail-boating, we were invited up to enjoy the day on shore, with the generous and warm welcome of Noel and his wife.

 

-- John Minck

 

There is additional semi-official historical information of Ed at the Hewlett-Packard website at this URL. It includes some of his civic accomplishments during his tenure as Mayor, such as the acquisition of Palo Alto's 1400 acre Foothill Park:

http://www.hp.com/retiree/history/founders/early_contributors/noel.html

 

 

Noel E. Porter, Vice President, Operations
Measure Magazine, April 1965
Courtesy of the Hewlett Packard Company

 

 

 

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