Lew Platt was the last Hewlett-Packard CEO to lead the company in The HP Way era. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the legendary duo who founded the Silicon Valley in a Palo Alto, CA, garage, created that culture.
The HP Way emphasized innovation much like Steve Jobs did. There wasn’t a lot of scientific market research. Bill and Dave would just see a customer problem and instruct teams to solve it. Along with the innovation culture, was the dedication to delivering what was promised to customers, almost no matter what.
On multiple occasions Lew would say, “Being reliable to our customers is one of the best sales tools we have.” He learned that from Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, practiced it and passed it on to his employees. While it sounds obvious, the extent to which HP would go to deliver on commitments was what earned it the awards, in the 1980s and 1990s, as the best sales and support organization in the industry.
There are many of us who had this experience with Lew, not to mention Hewlett and Packard, but I’ll share one of my experiences to give you a feel for the importance of ReliABILITY.
We had won a major project at Boeing. One of the requirements was that all applications needed to work, as proposed, for a minimum of 17 years because that was the average life of an airplane.
After we had started deployment, one of our SEs heard from a product manager (PM) that they wouldn’t commit to the 17 years. Worse yet, they would be making a change to a software package that year, and refused to support the old code beyond that. My sales manager, Pat, and our Global Account Manager, John, immediately scheduled a call with that PM.
The PM was a very smart guy who had a Master’s Degree in computer science, from MIT. Something all were reminded of In every encounter with him. He knew the situation and started the call by saying, “There’s no way I’m changing my decision. The costs are out of line. You guys are on your own.”
I calmly explained the situation and that we had gotten approval from his team prior to submitting the proposal. He was silent for a bit, but we could hear him talking with his team, reviewing the emails we had exchanged. We went back and forth for a few minutes when someone, who was obviously sitting away from the phone, said, “Hey… they got approval from Stephanie on her last day.” Stephanie was one of his lead project managers, who we had been working with. She had moved to another team just recently.
The PM let off a “YES!!! We got ‘em!!!” The PM then spoke to us saying, “Game over guys. You were working with someone who’s not on my team anymore.” I’m usually pretty even keeled but I lost it. I stood up and started yelling into the speaker with some colorful adjectives and pronouns, which I won’t repeat here.
John grabbed my arm and pulled me back down to my chair. He and Pat closed the conversation with a little more civil tone. As soon as we hung up John called Myrt, Lew’s assistant. Lew was the Boeing executive sponsor and Myrt said we could get him if we called back in 30 minutes.
We sent the contract language to Lew and then got on the phone with him 30 minutes later. He’d read through the contract along with a few emails that we had exchanged with the product team. Lew said he understood and asked that we give him a day to make some calls.
A day later, I got a call from that angry PM. He said that the head of his division had approved the additional costs and he’d instructed his team to do what was necessary to fulfill our contract commitments. He had a few other words for me, which I also won’t include here.
Lew, as he would do many times in his career, had made the call based on the customer commitment. To quote Lew again, “Being reliable for our customers is one of the best sales tools we have.” That was the foundation of The HP Way and our sales culture. I was lucky, along with many others, to have had Lew Platt as an example so early in my career.