This is a book about the ability of corporate culture to preserve a company through hard times and periods of transition. The case in point is Hewlett-Packard. Michael S. Malone's solid corporate biography skirts hagiography as he covers the business that Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard built, and why and how they built it. Malone only touches upon their personal lives in relation to the company's development. He doesn't deal much with the nitty-gritty of their problems, but he does set out the broad picture of where they succeeded (often) and tripped up (rarely). A nice feature of the book is the use of stars in the text that refer you to a section in the back of the book that summarizes the lessons illustrated by that part of the story. At times Malone brings up object lessons maybe once too often (for example, the buyout and hiring of Tektronic's sales reps). Still, we find that his many valid, interesting insights counteract that issue, and recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of technology.
Most (if not all) of the "Fortune 100" companies began as very small operations and that is certainly true of Hewlett-Packard which William Hewlett and David Packard co-founded with $538 in 1938, literally in a garage in Palo Alto, California. Their first product was an audio oscillator and one of their first customers was Walt Disney Studios which purchased eight of them to use during the creation of Fantasia. The company's subsequent growth is largely explained by sales of H-P's testing equipment during World War II (revenue grew from $34,000 in 1940 to almost $1-million in 1943) and expansion accelerated 50-100% throughout the 1950s.
What we have in Michael S. Malone's biography, Bill & Dave, includes a thorough (at times obsequious) account of how Hewlett and Packard led their company's growth until their successor, John Young, became president in 1977 and CEO the following year. In later chapters, Malone shifts his attention to events which resulted in Carleton S. ("Carly") Fiorina's appointment as president and CEO in 1999 and then as chairman in 2000. She was forced to resign in 2000.
Although I greatly admire what William Hewlett and David Packer accomplished throughout the establishment and development of the company whose name properly honors them, I do not share other reviewers' high regard for Malone's discussion of them. Before I even began to read this book, I was put off by the subtitle's assertion that Hewlett and Packard "built the world's greatest company." To the best of my knowledge, neither ever made that claim and it seems to me (one man's opinion) that it is both presumptuous and incorrect for Malone or anyone else to do so. If Malone is to be believed, Hewlett and Packard almost never did anything wrong whereas Fiorina, for example, almost never did anything right.
Malone's perspective is understandably subjective (another person's opinion, fair enough) but his judgment seems biased. Others who had a close association with both Hewlett and Packard throughout the 1940s and 1950s all agree that they were exceptionally intelligent, thoroughly decent human beings. Their talents, skills, and (yes) qualities of character are the core values of what is frequently referred to as "The H-P Way." But they were not deities and would be the first to point that out in no uncertain terms.
My rating of this book is explained by the fact that Malone provides a wealth of historical information about an especially important era (i.e. the birth and adolescence of high technology) and a wealth of biographical information about two men who were among the most effective business leaders during that era. I am grateful for what I learned.
That said, I regret that Malone's perspectives are not more circumspect and his judgment more balanced. In the final section of his book, he provides an especially sentimental account of what occurred on December 6, 2005, in a quiet Palo Alto neighborhood. Here's how he concludes the book: As older visitors to the "Birthplace of Silicon Valley" passed through the garage "like pilgrims at a holy shrine, [they] looked as much at the lovingly restored but still worn and uninsulated plank walls as at the historic items. After all these years, after all that has happened, it is still here, they told themselves. Together, we have survived." The tone of reverence and adoration in this and other passages in the book, in my opinion, compromises the authentic significance of who William Hewlett and David Packard were as well as the authentic importance of what they achieved.