Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, January 12, 2001
Technology pioneer William R. Hewlett dead at 87


William Redington Hewlett, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company and an alumnus whose generosity and vision helped build Stanford into one of the world's preeminent research universities and the Silicon Valley into a global model of innovation, died in his sleep Friday morning at his Palo Alto home. He was 87.

A memorial service, open to the public, is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 20, at 2 p.m. in Memorial Church. A reception will follow at Burnham Pavilion. The service also will be broadcast live on the Stanford Channel.

Those planning to attend the service are advised to allow ample time, as demand for parking may be high. Shuttle service will be provided from parking lots on Museum Way, Roth Way and Lasuen Street to the top of the Oval, where parking will be reserved primarily for the elderly and disabled. After the memorial service, some shuttles will return to the parking areas while others will take guests to the reception at Burnham Pavilion. Shuttles will run continuously from the Pavilion to the parking areas.

"Stanford has lost one of its most loyal supporters as well as a trusted friend and adviser," President John Hennessy said. "While Bill was extraordinarily generous to Stanford, he also was a quiet instigator and adviser, always urging the university to strive to be the best it could be. We have benefited greatly from his ceaseless desire to inspire excellence."

David Packard and William Hewlett outside the legendary Palo Alto garage where they founded their original company. The garage is a California state historical landmark. photo: Stanford News Service

James Gibbons, the Reid Weaver Dennis Professor of Electrical Engineering, called Hewlett "a true spirit for innovation and technology in a firm that has to be regarded as the corporate birthplace of the Silicon Valley."

Hewlett was born on May 20, 1913, in Ann Arbor, Mich. He moved to California at age 3 when his father, a doctor, joined the faculty at Stanford Medical School. In 1930, Hewlett, who had shown a keen interest in science during his youth, enrolled at Stanford. Here he met his future business partner, David Packard, who died in 1996 at age 83. While Hewlett is perhaps best remembered for his scientific expertise and Packard for his business acumen, these lifelong friends often stepped into each other's professional shoes.

Hewlett graduated from Stanford in 1934 with a bachelor's degree and, in 1936, earned a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then returned to Stanford, where he earned a degree of engineer, in electrical engineering, in 1939. That same year, he married Flora Lamson, a biochemist.

Packard and Hewlett during the early years of their collaboration.
Courtesy Hewlett-Packard Co.

While graduate students at Stanford, Hewlett and Packard were encouraged to follow their dream of starting an electronics company -- amidst the Great Depression -- by their mentor, former Dean and Provost Frederick E. Terman, a pioneer in radio engineering. On Jan. 1, 1939, they founded the Hewlett-Packard Co. in Packard's Palo Alto garage with $538 of their own money.

The graduate thesis Hewlett wrote while at Stanford became the basis for HP's first product. "His first major contribution was a resistance-tuned audio oscillator with stabilization feedback," Gibbons said. One of the first customers for the oscillator was Walt Disney Studios, which used it to develop the state-of-the-art soundtrack for the movie Fantasia.

HP's corporate culture encouraged professional development in sometimes unconventional ways. "The company would encourage employees to do even personal projects using company equipment and parts, like building an amplifier that you needed for your audio system," Gibbons said. "It encouraged engineers to be innovative. It was a generous impulse, but one that has inherent value for the company because the engineer would learn something."

When the business expanded to include satellites outside Palo Alto, Hewlett visited a Santa Rosa site and noticed a storeroom chained with a padlock. "He immediately went to the store, bought a bolt cutter, used it to cut the lock and put up a note reading: 'Please don't chain this again. -- Bill,'" recalled Gibbons. "He wanted people to be able to invent anytime and under any circumstances."

Both Hewlett and Packard shared a disdain for formality and hierarchy and an admiration for creativity and initiative that they incorporated into company policies that later defined many attributes of the Silicon Valley. Many companies worldwide have adopted the people-oriented approach to management, now known as the "HP Way," which has included profit sharing for all employees since the company's inception.

From its birth until 1968, the company focused on broadly applicable technologies. The oscillator and HP's other equipment and measurement devices provided a means for engineers at other companies, such as Motorola, to create their own devices, Gibbons said.

After HP introduced a desktop scientific calculator in 1968, Hewlett asked HP engineers to design a calculator small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. HP introduced the HP-35, the world's first handheld scientific calculator, in 1972, rendering slide rules obsolete. That product "opened the door," Gibbons said, "for all the technology that allowed them to be in the computing and peripherals business."

Early on, Hewlett saw HP as a global company. In 1959, the firm opened its first manufacturing site outside of Palo Alto in Boeblingen, Germany, followed shortly by the establishment of its European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

HP's products include personal computers and servers, calculators, printers, fax machines, copiers and software.

Hewlett's gift for understanding how technologies could become marketplace successes enabled him to grow the original HP company, which he used to say made "anything to bring in a nickel," into two international enterprises -- the Hewlett-Packard Co., with more than 88,000 employees and fiscal year 2000 revenues of $49 billion, and Agilent Technologies Inc., with more than 47,000 employees and fiscal year 2000 revenues of $11 billion.

Engineering innovation through philanthropy

Hewlett helped to make Stanford what it is today through his generous support. Over the years he and Packard donated more than $300 million to their alma mater.

"This was equivalent to the financial contributions the Stanfords themselves had made, adjusted for inflation," Gibbons said. "Hewlett gave in ways to get things kicked off fast. Packard gave in ways to complete projects and ensure the value we were getting."

Said Hennessy: "Bill Hewlett represented so much to Stanford and the people of our community. He and David Packard have an almost mythic role in the founding of Silicon Valley. For Stanford, he was an alumnus, friend and one of our most generous supporters over a very long period of time.

"We feel so fortunate to have had such a strong and meaningful relationship with him. We know that his influence and inspiration will live on in the many Stanford faculty and students who will contribute to their communities in the same way Bill did."

Hewlett and Packard also helped to shape the university through their ideas. John Ford, vice president of development, said that Hewlett and Packard "not only shared their wealth; they shared their wisdom in running Stanford."

Indeed, Hewlett served as a trustee of the university between 1963 and 1974. He also served on the board of governors of the Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital Center (now the Stanford Medical Center).

"Bill and Dave gave gifts that touched all seven schools, the Hoover Institution and the Athletics Department," Ford said. "Their gifts -- in part or in whole -- probably fund more than 100 faculty members and hundreds of students on this campus every year who are receiving fellowships and scholarships."

In 1994, each contributed $12.5 million for the establishment of a fellowship in honor of Terman. Later that year, they contributed $77.4 million for the completion of the Science and Engineering Quadrangle.

Hewlett was particularly interested in helping young people flourish and provided funds for both young faculty development and for student scholarships and fellowships.

"Bill represents the best of what philanthropy is," Hennessy said. "He never sought the limelight for his tireless contributions to the public good. His generosity was based on the belief that those who have had the good fortune to succeed should devote themselves to the betterment of society. Bill's generosity and his thoughtful approach to giving back have helped inspire a new generation of philanthropists in Silicon Valley."

Career path of a technological trailblazer

Hewlett actively managed the company he and Packard built, except during World War II, when he served in the U.S. Army as a Signal Corps officer. When he returned to HP in 1947, he was named vice president. He was elected executive vice president in 1957 (the year HP made its initial stock offering to the public), president in 1964 and chief executive officer in 1969.

He resigned as president in 1977 and retired as chief executive officer in 1978. He then served as chair of HP's executive committee until 1983, when he became vice chair of the HP board of directors. In 1987, he was named director emeritus.

During his career, Packard also served as a director of Chrysler Corp., Chase Manhattan Bank, FMC Corp., the Overseas Development Council and Kaiser Foundation Hospital & Health Plan.

In the 1960s, he was a member of President Lyndon Johnson's General Advisory Committee on Foreign Assistance Programs and the President's Science Advisory Committee.

Hewlett wrote several technical articles for electrical engineering publications, held numerous patents and was the recipient of 12 honorary degrees from colleges and universities. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, which gave him its Founders' Award in 1993. In addition, he was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a life fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an honorary lifetime member of the Instrument Society of America and co-founder of the American Electronics Association. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor.

In 1966, the Hewlett family established the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to direct the family's philanthropic interests in areas that include conflict resolution, environmental conservation, U.S.-Latin American relations and the performing arts.

In 1994, Hewlett also donated $70 million to endow the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit research organization aimed at improving public policy in the state.

At the time of his death, Hewlett was a director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which Packard founded.

An avid outdoorsman, Hewlett enjoyed skiing, mountain climbing, hunting and fishing. In later life he studied botany, photography and history.

Hewlett is survived by his wife, Rosemary Bradford, whom he married in 1978. (Flora Hewlett died in 1977). He is also survived by five children -- Eleanor Hewlett Gimon, Walter B. Hewlett, William A. Hewlett, James S. Hewlett and Mary Hewlett Jaffe -- and five stepchildren -- David C. Bradford, Robert A. Bradford, Peter K. Bradford, Jeffrey M. Bradford and Deborah Bradford Whelan.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the giver's charity of choice.

William Hewlett
Courtesy Hewlett-Packard Co.