The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death January 12, 2001 of Honorary Trustee William R. Hewlett, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company. He was 87.
William Redington Hewlett, a skilled engineer and businessman who co-founded Hewlett-Packard Co. with his friend and partner, the late David Packard, in a garage in 1938, was instrumental in the establishment of both Silicon Valley and the computer age. He died in his sleep at his home in Palo Alto, California of natural causes. At the time of his death he was Director Emeritus of Hewlett-Packard Company, commonly known as HP, and was chairman of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Mr. Hewlett was elected an Honorary Trustee of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1992.
Forbes magazine listed him as one of the wealthiest Americans, ranking him 26th last year with an estimated net worth of $9 billion. According to many, Hewlett considered the HP management style that still serves as a model for other companies among his greatest accomplishments. “I guess that’s what I’m most proud of – the fact that we really created a way to work with employees, let them share in the profits and still keep control of it,” Hewlett recalled when he retired as vice chairman of the company in 1987. He enjoyed working side-by-side with employees and valued his relationship with them. Hewlett stepped down as Hewlett-Packard’s president in 1977 and chief executive the following year but remained vice chairman until 1987. Packard retired as chairman in 1993 and died in 1996 at age 83.
In 1985, President Reagan awarded Hewlett the National Medal of Science, America’s highest scientific honor. He was also the recipient of the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame Award, the Exemplary Leader Award from the American Leadership Forum, the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame Award, and the John M. Fluke, Sr. Memorial Pioneer Award. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a member of the Academy’s President’s Circle, the National Academy of Engineering, American Philosophical Society and was an Honorary Life Member of the Instrument Society of America. He was also an Honorary Trustee of the California Academy of Sciences, a Trustee Emeritus of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, a Life Fellow of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science. He served as a Director of the National Academies’ Corporation and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. He was also the recipient of more than a dozen honorary degrees.
Bill Hewlett was also a well-known philanthropist, donating tens of millions of dollars to environmental, educational and humanitarian causes individually and through a large family foundation.
He was born May 20, 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but grew up in California, where his father was a professor of medicine at Stanford University. He met David Packard, another engineering student, at Stanford, and the two became friends. Hewlett graduated in 1934 with a bachelor of arts degree; he also received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1939. Packard also graduated in 1934 and went to work for General Electric Co. in New York, while Hewlett headed east and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936.
Both returned to Palo Alto a few years later and decided to start their own company in 1939 with $538 in a rented garage that is now a historic landmark. Hewlett-Packard’s first product as a resistance-capacitance audio oscillator, an instrument to test sound equipment, that was based on a design developed by Hewlett when he was in graduate school. Walt Disney reportedly bought eight for the movie “Fantasia.” Hewlett and Packard shared basic beliefs about managing a company which became known as the “HP Way”: disdain of strict hierarchy and formality, admiration for individual creativity and initiative, and trust in employees.
William Hewlett was actively involved in management of the company until 1987, with the exception of the years he served as an Army officer during World War II. He was on the staff of the Army’s Chief Signal Officer and then headed the electronics section of the New Development Division of the War Department Special Staff. During this latter tour of duty he was on a special U.S. team that inspected Japanese industry immediately after the war.
In 1947, shortly after he returned to Palo Alto, Hewlett was named vice president of Hewlett-Packard Company, which grew quickly after the war. He was elected Executive Vice President in 1957, President in 1964, and was named Chief Executive Officer in 1969. He resigned as President in 1977 and returned as Chief Executive Officer in 1978 in accordance with his previously announced plans for management succession within the company. He then served as chairman of HP’s Executive Committee until 1983, when he became Vice Chairman of the HP Board of Directors. In 1987 he was named Director Emeritus. The company expanded rapidly through the years from manufacturing electronic and scientific instruments to calculators, computers and printers. The original firm is now two multinational companies, Hewlett-Packard Company 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 nearly $11 billion.
William Hewlett is survived by his wife, Rosemary (Bradford) Hewlett; five children from his first marriage to Flora Hewlett, who died in 1977; and five stepchildren from his second marriage.
Funeral arrangements are pending.