Obituary: David Packard

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The Independent Online
David Packard was one of the giants of the American electronics and computer industry and one of the founders of Silicon Valley.

A giant of a man both physically - he was six foot five inches tall - and in his energy and impact, Packard and his Stanford engineering friend Bill Hewlett founded the Hewlett-Packard company in Packard's garage in Palo Alto, just off the Stanford campus, in 1939. They started the business with $539 borrowed from a Stanford radio engineering professor, Fred Term, and tossed a coin to determine whether it was to be called Packard-Hewlett or Hewlett-Packard. Packard lost.

Today Hewlett-Packard, perhaps the leading manufacturer of printers for computers as well as of many other products, has an annual revenue of $31 billion (pounds 20,000 million) and 100,000 employees world-wide. Its headquarters are still just off the Stanford University campus.

Packard ventured into the world of government. He served as Deputy Secretary of Defense in the first two years of the first Nixon Administration, from 1969 to 1971, and was a member of a blue ribbon Commission on Defense Management in the Reagan Administration.

In 1957, at the time of the initial offer of Hewlett-Packard stock, Packard set down his thoughts about management and what came to be called the "HP way". The essence of his brilliantly sucessful management philosophy was encouraging people. In a book published last year, The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built our company, he wrote "get the best people, stress the importance of teamwork, and get them fired up to win the game".

As a result, a whole generation of leaders in the computer and information technology industries got their start at Hewlett-Packard, including Steve Jobs, who went on to start Apple computers.

After his creation and leadership of Hewlett-Packard, however, his second most important role was in philanthropy. He gave $2 billion of his personal fortune, estimated at $3.7 billion (pounds 2,400 million) to the David and Lucile Packard foundation.

It has given large sums of money to Stanford University and to the Hoover Institution there; to children's charities; to environmental causes; to basic scientific and engineering research; and to the arts. In addition, Packard is listed by Martin Anderson of the Hoover Institution, along with Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to one of America's wealthiest families, as the two most important supporters of conservative causes.

David Packard was born in Pueblo, California, into a middle-class family in 1912. He met Bill Hewlett at engineering school at Stanford, and while on a climbing trip they decided to start a business together. On graduation, however, Packard first went to work for General Electric in upstate New York, while Hewlett did further study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In early 1939 they started their company. Their first project was a set of eight oscillators for Walt Disney Inc, for testing sound equipment for the film Fantasia. They were priced at $71.90 each. It was a good time to be starting an electronic company in Southern California. The boom in the aircraft industry caused by the approach of the Second World War was already starting.

When the United States got into the war at the end of 1941, Bill Hewlett joined the US Army Signal Corps, and Pack-ard stayed behind to run the business. Although both he and Hewlett were trained as engineers, Hewlett concerned himself with product design and manufacturing. Packard was the administrator and business man, notable for his decisiveness.

In the 1950s Hewlett-Packard expanded out of electronic and scientific instruments into calculators and in the following decades into computers and printers. All these products have an enviable reputation for working without fuss.

In 1969 President Nixon's Secretary of Defense, the former congressman Melvin Laird, tapped Packard for the job of restoring order to the administration of the Pentagon, where cost overruns were costing billions. Packard and Laird introduced a "fly before buy" policy, in which contracts would not be signed for a product until several manufacturers had competed to show what they could do and at what price.

Neither the new concept nor Packard's management skills made much difference. Most of the contracts Packard initiated, such as the S-3A anti-submarine aircraft and the DD-963 destroyer, ran into cost problems almost as bad as those which had plagued earlier systems. As for the Lockheed C5A transport, which Packard spent 17 months negotiating, it proved both a financial and a technological disaster. Packard was happy to be back in California, and in private industry.

Few industrialists or managers have inspired such affection. "He encouraged every- body", said one colleague in the Hewlett-Packard oral history. "He would go around, and if anybody had any squawk, he wanted to hear them." Steve Jobs called Hewlett-Packard the model for Apple Computer.

The present US Defense Secretary, William Perry, called him simply "a giant in industry, public service and philanthropy", while the banker David Rockefeller called him "a brilliant scientist, an innovative businessman and an incredibly generous and tolerant human being".

In spite of his great wealth, Packard lived simply in California, though he and his partner Bill Hewlett owned large spreads of cattle ranching country in California and Idaho.

David Packard, businessman and philanthropist: born Pueblo, Colorado 7 September 1912; founded Hewlett-Packard Co with William R. Hewlett 1939, President 1947-64, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer 1964-68, 1972-93; US Deputy Secretary of Defense 1969-71; married 1938 Lucile Salter (died 1987; one son, three daughters); died Palo Alto, California 26 March 1996.