Hewlett Packard always held a special place in Steve Jobs’ heart. And while the two companies were sometimes competitors, Jobs took no comfort in HP’s corporate meltdown this summer.
In fact, he thought it was a tragedy.
“Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they left it in good hands,” Jobs told Apple staffers on his final visit to the company. “But now it’s being dismembered and destroyed. It’s tragic. I hope I’ve left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple.”
Journalist Walter Isaacson includes the comments in his intimate portrait of Jobs, iSteve, published on Monday.
Wheelchair-bound as he neared the end of his long struggle with pancreatic cancer, Jobs talked about HP while watching lunchtime products demo by Apple executives Scott Forstall and Phill Schiller. Just minutes earlier, he’d resigned as CEO of the company he founded. It was August 24. Six days earlier, HP had axed its TouchPad tablet and suggested that it might give up on PC business altogether.
Although you’d expect Jobs — a man who once drew a bullseye on a picture of Michael Dell’s face at a management meeting — to be happy to see a competitor stumble, for a kid who grew up in Silicon Valley, HP was different. When Jobs was in grade eight, he called up HP founder Bill Hewlett to ask him for a part for a frequency counter he was building. Hewlett, impressed with the kid’s gumption, offered him a summer job.
HP was paying Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniac salary when he designed the first Apple, and many of the company’s early engineers were plucked from HP’s ranks. Jobs sometimes found HP engineers a little un-hip, but he clearly admired the company.
“He wanted to be in the pantheon with, indeed a notch above, people like… Bill Hewlett and David Packard,” Isaacson writes.
In Isaacson’s unvarnished telling, Jobs comes off as a self-centered and sometimes callous perfectionist. And if Apple’s founder really about anything, it wasn’t about design, or engineering, or even changing people’s lives. By the end of his life, Steve Jobs wanted one thing above all: to build a great company, something he called “the hardest work in business.”
He said that there were a handful of companies that were built “to last, not just to make money”: Disney, Intel, and — for a time — HP.
Jobs comes off as grudgingly respectful to Microsoft founder Bill Gates in the book — a man he felt stole Apples ideas and tastelessly repackaged them — but not so for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
“Apple was lucky and it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it,” he says near the end of the book. Earlier, Isaacson quotes him as saying: “It’s easy to throw stones at Microsoft. They’ve clearly fallen from their dominance. They’ve become mostly irrelevant.”
Jobs has a few choice words for his other enemies: Gill Amelio is a “bozo.” Michael Dell gets an e-mail lecture after suggesting in 1997 that Apple should be shut down: “CEOs are supposed to have class,” Jobs writes, “I can see that isn’t an opinion you hold.” Former IBM CEO John Akers “was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about product.”
There’s even a tidbit about HP’s current CEO Meg Whitman. She was considered for an Apple board position shortly after Jobs took the reins at Apple in the mid 1990s. Jobs passed on Whitman, who was at the time the manager of Hasbro’s Playskool division.
About the only Silicon Valley Heavyweight who gets a pass is Oracle’s Larry Ellison, who considered Jobs his best friend.
While on vacation in Kona Village, Hawaii in December 1995, Ellison and Jobs cooked up plans for a $3 billion hostile Apple takeover bid. Jobs had been ousted from Apple 10 years earlier and he clearly hated watching on the sidelines as the company he founded withered away.
On reflection, though, Jobs nixed the plan. “I decided I’m not a hostile-takeover kind of guy,” Jobs says.