Obituary: David Packard

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?