See Ya, Carly - Embedded.com

See Ya, Carly

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Hewlett-Packard is suffering through yet more change and disruption. Carly Fiorina, CEO for the last six years, was shown the door this week.

Her HP reign began in July 1999, the same month the company spun off the test equipment division into Agilent.

But I still think of my Agilent scope as an HP. To me, and to uncounted thousands of engineers over the decades HP test equipment == extremely high-quality gear. Bulletproof stuff that remained accurate despite infrequent trips to a calibration lab. My 54645D has lived aboard in the salty atmosphere of a boat for eight years, has been hauled around the world, banged and abused by baggage handlers, and yet still operates as well as the day I got it.

It's hard for me to walk by the Agilent booth at the Embedded Systems Conference and not think of them as HP. Today Agilent carries on HP's tradition of producing great test equipment. But I wonder what Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard would think of the name change.

The duo started HP in 1939, in an old garage that's now designated a California State historical landmark. They built an innovative audio oscillator that sold for a quarter of what the competition charged. Walt Disney bought some of these units for use in producing the still incredible movie Fantasia .

Test equipment was a core business for decades. But that business couldn't measure up to the siren song of personal computers. Today Agilent does a respectable $7.2 billion in sales, but that's less than 10% of HP's $80-billion empire, one grounded in PCs, servers, printers, and services. Under Ms. Fiorina the company spun off its roots and became a computer company.

She drove the company to acquire Compaq in 2002, a merger that most feel never netted much for either business.

Today PCs and printers dominate HP's revenues, though the PC business barely returns 1% profit on operations compared to 16% for printers. Rumors abound they may sell the latter division, which sure sounds like lopping off one's arm to save the tumor.

Not being an analyst I don't know if Ms. Fiorina was ultimately a boon for the company or not. She did nearly double HP's revenue in her six years there. But the stock price still stutters around $20/share, just about the same level when she started. In capitalism the worth of the company is the stock price times the number of shares. Revenue is nice, profits even better, but stockholders buy when they think the company's valuation will increase. By that measure she stumbled badly.

HP used to be considered one of the best places to work in the world. Hewlett and Packard were known as gentle giants, astonishingly rich and successful men who were often seen strolling around their facilities, getting to know the workers. The phrase “management by walking around” originated with them, which translated into close interaction between management and the employees.

I'm writing this on my HP Pavillion PC, which is networked to my HP (OK — Agilent darn it!) scope. I sure hope the company post-Fiorina rebounds, and that the old “HP-way” and esprit des corps returns.

HP has been a truly great company and can remain so into the future.

What's your take on HP as a company and Ms. Fiorina's ouster?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He helps companies with their embedded challenges, and is conducting one-day seminars about building better firmware faster in Austin and Baltimore in April. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Response


Ding Dong the bitch is gone!

Now if they can just dump the Compaq crap, maybe they can make a comeback. Of course this would be after they pay off her 'golden parachute' of about $23 million… Not bad pay for taking the company nowhere but down.

– Steven J. Ackerman


Being ousted from her job seems suitable comeuppance for someone who with such chutzpah championed offshoring, claiming that there was not enough good help to be had in the US while EEs reached an unprecedented unemployment rate. I can only hope that when they gave her the pink slip, the board gave her some prattle about how her education is lacking and you can't find good CEOs in the US anymore.

– Alan Kohler


What's so incredible to me is that so few people noticed that it was a former “Lucent sales superstar” who was put in charge of a great technology leader. HP stood out by it's technical merit and leadership, like Bell Labs (i.e. Lucent) used to. For anyone who cared to look, it was readily apparent that she and her ilk did a pretty good job running Bell Labs into the ground. Is HP's current dilemma any surprise. God help the next high tech company unfortunate enough to have this carpetbagger land on their doorstep, because she sure won't. Maybe she can team up with Gil Amelio to write a book- “How to Ruin a Technology Leader”. Her polar opposite would be someone like Tom Engibous @ TI- bring back the engineers!

– Andre Ancelin


Being a former employee of HP under Carly, it is with great sadness that took the board so bloody long to can her. She laid off thousands to keep her bottom line and buy Compaq, I guess that's fair. They will rebound but not to what they were before 2002. The workers are now edgy and basicly gunshy about doing things for the company, all it can get you is laid off.

– Bill Lovell


I am miffed by all these large companies changing their names. Is this marketing types justifying their existence?

HP -> Aglilent … mistake

Hitachi ? -> Renasas? … mistake

Others … Once the name changes I don't care to remember.

– Tim Flynn


I can't answer the poll, because you haven't put 'sauce' as an option. In the UK, we have a spicy brown sauce called 'HP', and the same company also sells baked beans and tinned spaghetti. Despite having been an engineer for over 20 years, I was a consumer of chips (sorry, fries) with HP sauce for a fair while before that…

But seriously, I'm torn between test equipment (I used to work for Marconi Instruments, so they were big competition in those days) and PCs/printers (which is where I now see the brand all the time).

– Paul Tiplady


Generally Speaking, I have been very impressed with the HP / Agilent test equipment. The same does not apply to their printers. I have owned one HP printer, a laserjet 5L which was a complete pile as where the later model inkjet printers that two of my relatives bought.

Considering the apparent difference in levels of quality of the product lines, splitting the two divisions may not be a bad idea.

– Matt Flyer


It was a glorious day when I heard of her demise. Hurray!

When she changed “Hewlett Packard” to Agilent, I thought, “What the hell is an Agilent?” The HP name was golden and worth a 25% surcharge on any piece of gear. (My LaserJet II is still cranking out paper like new.) When VW bought Rolls-Royce and BWM bought Bentley, they didn't change name because the name stood for something! Maybe the HP board will get smart and change the name back to the proud moniker of the pre-Carly days.

The big question now is, what will be the NEXT company stupid enough to hire this bimbo?

– Carl Dreher


I had HP (the real/old one) as a client in the mid-90's, where we build an E1 clock sync box.

The engineers I worked with and met were some if the best in the world. None of them were “average”.

Keith, another engineer on the same project as me, told the story of working on a critical project, and would work 8a to 11p. Every morning he would spend 30 minutes just looking for his scope, so he hung around late one night. About midnight, this old man walked into his cube and grabed the scope. He asked the guy to just return it properly. The guy asked him if Keith was in a critical project, and would Keith like a tech? Keith said yes, so the guy became his tech, with assurances to Keith that his (the tech's) manager would not be a problem. After about a month, someone pulled Keith aside and asked him how in the world did he convince Bill Hewlett to be his tech?

I don't thing Carly would have done that. Sadly, the E1 clock sync product (and the folks) were sold off a bit after she became CEO. All of the folks had been with HP at least 20 years, and assumed they would be there for another 20 – because there were a fair number of folks there within a stones throw with 30..40 years in (with 1 year sabatical for every 7 years employed.

Another thing most folks do not realize is Bill and Dave had an active part in starting Tektronix – they setup their own competition. For many years, and somewhat true today, those two companies are still the best places to find many of the world's best analog folks.

– bandit


Fiorina stood for everything HP was not. Short term versus long term, engineering versus marketing, M@A versus development and charm versus substance. Coming to work one day and finding the Borgias in charge of the nunnery could have been a great comedy, but real people were poisonned and died and a real company was murdered. She will not be missed, I just wish they had emptied her pockets on the way out as she emptied so many on her up.

– Peter Brown


One of the things that kept HP steady was the process of promoting from within. This succession on CEO's went with Agilent …the test equipment group that is the true HP. The company called HP today is far removed from the company most engineers have known over the years. I think it surely would have been better to let the HP name stay with the test equipment side and have named the new company Agilent.

– Norbert Laengrich


Check this out:http://nytimes.com/2005/02/12/business/12hewlett.html

It seems Carly exits with $42 million… including $50,000 for, among otherthings, “career counseling.”

Sweet. I want to work there, and then get fired!

– Marc


I have owned HP printers calculators and

worked with HP instruments.

Yes there's a decline in quality.

Although I do not think it is an isolated event.

Many companies with good quality and a good

trade mark either become purchased or taken

over by marketing people, using value of the

trademark and peoples good faith to make a

short term profit.

The car industry is a good example.

To glue SAAB labels on GMs other models.

or by gluing Chevrolet labels on Hyundai cars.

To label the management as incompetent?

NO, I don't think so, it seem to work awesomely well.

“for them”(according to their salary).

I'm sure they will continue doing it, who could resist?

What to do about this phenomenon – Who knows?

Not me.

– Martin Lundstrm


The best printer I've ever owned was (and is) a Laserjet IIIP. I got it third-hand for $2. It only needed cleaning, and it works reliably to this day. HP computer? Bought one brand-new — it died right after the warranty expired.

– Ray Bowen


Their greediness in the ink business has made me swear off any of their products. Two non-working printers also contributed.

– Kurt Mathes


Carly was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the once magnificent HP. I now refuse to buy anything that has the HP “logo”. Thank god the T&M business was spun off as Agilent before she could destroy it. Too bad Motorola didn't do that with their semiconductor business (I won't use anything Motorola either).

– Kelly Painter

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