06/01/2005: "HP's real problem? No longer guided by Catholics"
Not many people know this but Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the founders of the computer/printer company HP, were both Catholic. Most everyone knows that what made the company successful for so long was their guiding principles, dubbed The HP Way. What is less known is that the HP Way principles are firmly grounded in Catholic theology because the founders, Bill and Dave, were committed Catholics. The basic principles of the HP Way including treating every employee with dignity, including the value of their family. The concept of the work/life balance, is a core principle of the HP Way. Valuing the honest input of each employee and being willing to be honest in return about the needs/direction of the company was another key aspect of the HP Way. HP had never done a layoff until Carly was hired as the CEO. Bill and Dave did everything in their power, including turning down unsustainable lucrative contracts, to avoid the bloat and purge cycles that plagued other companies. They felt that telling a good employee that they were no longer wanted was a failure of the company. Long term success and integrity was more important to them than short term greed. In short, they were good Catholic men, ran their company as a good Catholic company and treated every employee like family. Just like their employees had a responsibility to them, they had a responsibility to their employees and the community.
The reason I bring this up is because I had a conversation today about Bill and Dave's Catholicism. As I was buying a crucifix at the local Catholic store to put in my cubicle, I was talking with the owner. I told her that I was buying it to put in my cubicle. She asked where I worked (with this worried look on her face) and I told her HP. She responded that it should be OK there and "You know that both Bill and Dave were Catholic, right?"
We then proceeded to talk about how the company has been failing. Although I had many times put together that the failures of the company have everything to do with abandoning the HP Way, I had never connected the reality that at its core what that meant was that the company had abandoned Catholic teaching (even though I had in the past put together the HP Way and Catholic teaching).
We often think of the restrictions the Church puts on us as limiting and frustrating. I think it is important to remember that just like the frustration that a child feels when being disciplined and guided, most of the restrictions put on us are for our own good. The reality is that by following Church teaching (and hence following God) we are freeing ourselves and helping ourselves to grow and prosper. HP prospered over the long term because it followed God's commands for us. It started failing when it failed to do so. The "best" part (if one can ever refer to a failure with the term best) is that it didn't take any visible divine intervention for God's will to be clear. HP made it happen all on its own.
Today my prayers are for HP and its executives, that they may be guided by the principles of the Catholic Church so that they may help this once proud company regain its integrity and its prosperity.