Partner in Greatness
Lucile Packard's ideals and paycheck fueled the HP start-up, then shaped community history
By every account, Lucile Packard was an exceptional human being. Her intelligence, optimism, idealism and energy dovetailed perfectly with the substantial talents of her remarkable husband, David.
While the formal partnership of Hewlett-Packard was between Dave and Bill, Lucile's contributions placed an indelible stamp on the human face of HP. Her husband, in the dedication to his 1995 book, "The HP Way," cited her encouragement and participation in the early years as the genesis of the HP Way.
Much of the content of this reflection is gleaned from the HP Archives and oral histories collected from friends and family in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Lucile Packard, 1938 — This photograph was snapped in Schenectady, New York, just as the newlyweds were preparing to motor back to California
Seeds of success
Lucile Salter was born July 30, 1914 in San Francisco, California. Her father, Alfred Woodley Salter, was a self-employed photo engraver. Her mother, Mabel Smith Salter, took care of the bookkeeping for Alfred, worked as the secretary to a local attorney, and also dabbled — with some success — in modest financial investments.
The Salter household was permeated by a strong sense of community, respect and integrity. "It was just natural [expected] for us to do the right thing," her sister, Audrey, would recall much later in her life. "I just couldn't imagine not doing what was right."
Apparently, Mabel felt strongly that what was "right" for her girls included a sound education. Young Lucile certainly absorbed this value, and by her early teens she dreamed of attending Stanford University, just to the south of her native city.
But that dream contained its challenges. By the time Lucile completed her secondary education, the great economic depression had settled like a heavy dark shroud over the entire country. Her family was not wealthy, and money for college was in short supply.
Undeterred, "Lu" - as she was called by her family and friends - applied for admission anyway, confident she could find a way make it through. Admission ratios for Stanford were overwhelmingly weighted in favor of young men, and her first application was turned down. But, no shrinking violet, she reapplied and on her second try got in.
Stanford and David
Lu — an English major — was a natural leader, and was active in her Delta Gamma sorority. She was selected for a job doing student counseling and she volunteered at the Stanford Convalescent Home for Children, established in 1919 to treat children with tuberculosis. It was here that the seeds were probably sown for a 50-year devotion to community and children's health issues.
In the fall of 1933, while attending a party at her sorority, the vivacious young Lucile was introduced to David Packard. But David wasn't at the party as a guest; he was washing dishes in the kitchen, one of the many jobs he held to help pay his tuition.
The lanky young man was an excellent athlete who had actually considered a career in basketball before deciding in favor of more academic pursuits. His parents wanted him to follow his father into law, but he had a different plan. His interest was piqued by engineering.
While the odd job washing dishes brought Lucile into his life, his engineering classes introduced him to Bill Hewlett. The two bright young men were soon taken under the wing of Fred Terman.
Schenectady and back
Dave graduated in 1934, and left for a job with General Electric (GE) in Schenectady, New York. Lucile completed her English degree in 1935, and then decided to attend a secretarial school to enhance her job prospects - a degree didn't change the fact that work opportunities for women were still limited. Following secretarial school, she landed a job in the Registrar's Office at Stanford.
The couple pursued a long-distance courtship, and became engaged in December of 1937. Because money was still very tight, they decided to avoid the travel expenses for a San Francisco wedding, and Lu took the Overland Express train east in April of 1938.
This journey was yet another demonstration of her pluck and sense of adventure, since four-day unaccompanied trips across the country were still uncommon for young ladies. Dave met her train in Schenectady, and they drove directly to the home of a local judge where they were married on April 8, 1938.
Just a few months later, Dave took a leave of absence from GE, and he and his new bride motored back to Palo Alto. In the rumble seat of the car, they brought the now-famous drill press which became part of the capital equipment used to start their new company.
Back in Palo Alto, they set up housekeeping on the first floor of a brown shingle house on Addison Avenue. Bill bunked in a tiny shed out back, and the two men began developing their product ideas in the garage.
Involved from the start
Lu was involved in the business from the very start. She returned to her former job at Stanford, working Monday through Friday and half of the day on Saturday. In the evenings and on Sundays, she did all of her domestic work and the letters and bookkeeping for Bill and Dave's start-up.
Lu's income sustained the Packard household during those first two crucial years. It was her steady, full-time, $90- a-month paycheck that provided the stability to allow Dave to complete his fellowship, and for he and Bill to focus on potential products. In a very significant way, she helped to make the launch of the Hewlett-Packard Company possible.
Many years later, Fred Terman recalled a matter-of-fact conversation he had with Lu. According to Terman, she told him that her mother had helped her father get his own business started when they were first married, and Lucile figured there wasn't any reason why she couldn't do the same.
Throughout 1938 and 1939, Lu was laundress, housekeeper, bread winner, secretary, bookkeeper, company hostess and steadfast supporter. She did it all. "My role," she said in her understated manner, "was typing the letters, keeping the records and heating up the coffee pot."
Dave and Lucile, 1945 — The Packards shared a common love of music and dancing. This picture was taken at a party planned by the employees.
Her recollections of the 18 months at Addison Avenue offer sometimes humorous glimpses into business on a shoestring. Reflecting on using the kitchen stove to bake paint onto early products, she later chuckled, "It took weeks to burn out the smell from that oven. And if I had wanted to bake a cake - which I didn't - I wouldn't have been able to have done it very successfully."
The first Hewlett-Packard office was situated on the dining room table inside the Packard apartment. "It was a nice table but fairly heavy," she recalled. "I know that because we had to move it every time before we could let down the wall bed, since it was in the dining room."
The first company desk was a second-hand model given to Dave as a gift by Lu's parents. "It occupied the place of honor in the little house which Bill Hewlett vacated when he and Flora were married," Lu said. "It filled that space so completely the door would barely open. But at least this gave us an office not on the dining table - our first established office!"
The Hewlett-Packard partnership became official in January 1939. The audio oscillator was soon being well received and orders began to pick up. Dave and Bill figured that the time was right to "make a run for it" in business, and Lu and Flora, standing behind the decision, were two of their most ardent supporters.
"I remember the thoughts I had just before I dropped David's letter of resignation to General Electric in the mailbox in June of 1939," she said. He had been officially on a leave of absence during his fellowship. "Mailing that letter cut our financial ties, but we felt there was no alternative to being one's own boss. We didn't worry a great deal," she said, "because we were sure that what we were doing was going to succeed."
Even at this early point, as they eschewed the security of GE, her certainty demonstrated a core belief in the importance of individual contribution and a remarkable ability to think big.
"For David and me," she said, "It was the only way. To be on your own; to work; to produce something that would do the job right; that people would want to buy."
David said of her contributions, "She was, in a sense, a very real part of the company in the early days. And so we'd worked together as a team from the very beginning. She was involved in all of the major decisions that we made."
Dave had indeed found his match: A woman with plenty of spirit who was ready to try new things, move forward in life and do what she was certain ought to be done.
More like a family than a firm
As the company began to grow, so did the Packard family. Lu resigned from Stanford with the birth of David Woodley Packard in 1940, but she continued working at HP. By now, the business had grown enough to justify hiring a bookkeeper. Lucile then took on expanding personnel responsibilities, including interviewing each new HP hire.
Even here, on the ground floor of the business, Lu demonstrated an outlook that was people centric. Speaking of the company's very first employee, Harvey Zieber, she said, "With Harvey's hire, we immediately became an organization with concerns for employee relations."
With the onset of war in 1941, her philosophical influence on the company expanded further. "I did everything from secretarial tasks to interviewing and keeping personnel records," she said. "During World War II [with gas and tire rationing] I took on the time-consuming but necessary job of organizing carpools to get employees to work and back home. We had to share everything."
Lu is credited for coming up with many ideas that, over time, became company traditions. They included establishing the company coffee pot, bringing in baked goods, and planning the details of company picnics, as well as drumming up civic spirit by arranging War Bond and blood drives.
For years, whenever an employee married or added a child to the family, she personally selected each wedding and baby gift. To Lu, the people of HP were family. This warmth and standard of commitment to HP employees took root and eventually became a central tenet of the company's corporate philosophy.
Dave and Lucile, 1945 - Among the many tasks she took on in the early days of HP, were the company war bond rallies. Here, Dave pulls a raffle ticket and Lucile hands out the prize.
Values to guide a company
These values were certainly shared by the founders, and their early introduction helped to guide the company. Each carried a strong belief in the basic goodness of people, of their desire to do a good job, and that given the proper tools, they would do so. They also believed that it was important to contribute to the overall good; that the betterment of society was not a job to be left to the few, but a responsibility to be shared by all. At the heart of every action was a firm conviction that each person had the right to be treated with great respect and caring.
Ray Wilbur, an early employee who rose to become vice president of Personnel and Human Resources for HP, remembered being impressed with the interest and concern shown for HP people by both Lu and Flora. "Through their interest in our people, policies and practices, they certainly had an impact on the HP Way," Wilbur said.
Balancing the expanding Packard family - which eventually included David Woodley, Nancy, Susan and Julie - helping foster a work environment of respect and caring, and expanding community involvement seemed to be something that just came naturally to Lu, and she seemed to get better and better at it with time.
During the 1950s and 1960s, as Hewlett-Packard experienced progressive growth and expansion, Lu's direct participation became less and less a possibility. So she bumped her love of people up to the next level; her community.
She got involved in the local Children's Health Council and eventually served as the chairperson of its board of directors.
As the financial success of the company and the family blossomed, Lu continued to redirect more and more of her attention to community volunteer work. Her love of family was fierce, but she was not terribly devoted to housekeeping and not interested in gardening or cooking. So, instead of retiring to the life of luxury she could well afford, she chose to work full time as a volunteer in the community. "It was important in her view to give back, because of all that had come to them," daughter, Susan, reflected in a Packard Foundation interview.
The Packard Foundation
When the David and Lucile Packard Foundation was established in 1964, Lu immediately immersed herself in its inner workings. The foundation was chartered to fund cultural, educational, conservation and community-centered health programs in Northern California.
From the beginning, the decisions regarding the foundation were a family affair, and it was not unusual for her to pass proposals around the kitchen table for each member to evaluate. Lu carried a cloth bag filled with foundation papers wherever she went. If she had a spare moment, she would delve into the bag and read furiously. This is how she managed to read nearly everything that came in and went out from the foundation; not as a matter of control, but as a matter of intense interest. Over time, she would serve as vice president, treasurer and on the foundation's board of directors.
But the foundation was not the exclusive recipient of Lucile's leadership. She became deeply involved in myriad volunteer organizations both locally and nationally, including, but not limited to: Family Service Association, Blood Bank, Red Cross, San Francisco Symphony, Castilleja School, Children's Health Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Wolf Trap National Park for Performing Arts.
Love spilling over
Lu never lost the fire of her early love of children and concern for their health. This devotion was probably rooted in two things: the first, in the volunteer work she did in her Stanford student days, and the second, in her deep, love of her own children. "She enjoyed her own children so much," Audrey said of Lucile. "She adored infants, and I think her love for her children just spilled over to include everyone."
This love of children inspired her to set about creating a better way to provide children with healthcare in a setting that would nurture both the body and the spirit of each child.
In 1967, Lucile joined the board of directors of the Stanford Children's Hospital. Here, she became an invaluable and indefatigable advocate for children and a natural leader with a collaborative style and an ability to ask the tough questions. It was on this board that she helped to develop the services and programs that ushered in a new cutting-edge era for the hospital and for the healthcare of all children.
She chaired that same board with inspired vision and leadership from 1983 until 1987. "I certainly would call Lucile Packard a visionary with respect to her work in developing Children's Hospital," Lawrence Crowley, M.D., retired Dean of Stanford Medical School, said of her.
Lu got very interested in the design of hospitals. She did a fair amount of travel to investigate state-of-the-art hospital design, but didn't much care to meet with the CEOs and supervisors.
It is said that she would occasionally slip away from her V.I.P. hosts only later to be found talking one-on-one with the rank and file of the nursing staff, discussing how things really worked on a day-to-day basis and what would make a hospital less institutional and more homelike for the kids.
This mode of operation - going directly to those doing the work - was second nature to Lucile. Like her husband, she believed that problems were best solved by everyone working together, and that everyone's ideas deserved to be heard and considered.
In 1986, showing boundless generosity, the Packard's made a $40 million gift that enabled Stanford to begin the construction of the new Children's Hospital. "She was really the inspiration," Charles Anderson, Lu's successor to the chair of Children's Hospital said of her. "I really think it would not have happened were it not for her."
Unquestionably, the hospital could not have existed as it does today without both the monetary gift and the gift of leadership this remarkable woman contributed.
But through it all, she remained, Lu: that special person who believed that everyone deserved to be treated with respect and caring. "Lu was a very special kind of person, never impressed by her own importance," longtime friend, Agnes Jarman, said. "People who did 5 percent of what she did have a much greater sense of their importance. She never lost the common touch."
The most valuable legacy
Dave Packard had two great partners in life. One was Bill Hewlett; what they accomplished together changed the face of technology. The other was Lucile; her contributions inside and outside the walls of HP did nothing less than alter the fabric of the company and its surrounding communities.
Lu died in 1987, at the age of 72. The back cover of MEASURE Magazine, the HP employee magazine produced from 1963 through 2000, described her as a gracious woman who worked hard to make the world a better place. The Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital memorializing her name was dedicated in 1991.
Lucile Packard's life story, along with her personal and social contributions, serves as a continuing inspiration for the people of HP and of the world. So much good continues to travel in the wake of this bright, sensible, dedicated and caring human being.
Of the many gifts she left for posterity, perhaps the most powerful is her example.
Salute to Lu Packard, MEASURE magazine, 1987
(PDF file, 615KB)
Lucile and Dave, 1964 - The local Boys Clubs were the happy recipients of Lucile's volunteer work and monetary support.
In Her Own Words
Nostalgia, humor and hope: excerpts from a 1986 interview with Lucile Packard.
Addison Avenue, 1938-39
"It's on a very quiet street in Palo Alto, and it's a very old — even at that time it was old — two story, brown shingle house with a detached garage. That's where the work took place; that and in my kitchen."
"The bottom floor of this house had a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, and a back porch. We had a wall bed in the dining room, and the dining room table was my desk where I wrote all the first letters and kept track of all that money we didn't have."
"The kitchen had a nice oven, where the panels for the first instruments were baked. There was a garden in back - a rose garden - where I hung my clothes to dry. Otherwise it was just a very ordinary house."
"Well, it was very scary to be leaving General Electric, and to realize that we were on our own. Actually, he [David] came back to get his engineer's degree, so really we were thinking of ourselves as students for the first year."
"During that year, he and Bill started Hewlett-Packard. At the end of his year's leave of absence was when he had to write a letter actually quitting General Electric. That was the most traumatic part of it all."
"As to spending a lot of time thinking about this new venture, this big thing we were doing, we didn't. He and Bill had an idea of something they wanted to do, and I was there with some of the skills that could be helpful."
Funding the start-up
"Well, let me see. I produced a salary. Do you want to know what it was? I made $90 a month, which was considered a pretty good salary. David, of course, was not making any money then; so this is what we lived on. It wasn't too difficult."
"I kept house; I worked five and a half days a week; and then I came home and did the washing, the cooking, took care of whatever letters Hewlett-Packard needed, and kept track of the books. That's all."
First personnel manager
"That was the part I liked best of all. It was something that I don't think David and Bill wanted to spend too much time worrying about."
"As soon as we had hired our first real employee, immediately we became an organization with concerns about employee relations; although, we certainly never thought of it in quite that way. It was all part of the whole spirit of working together."
Early management style
"Well, it wasn't a very big area to wander around in, but they did their management by wandering around, even in those days. They all worked together in that back shop behind the office, and if there was a problem, they all solved it together. They [Bill and Dave] assumed that the other people had just as good ideas about solving problems as they did."
The HP Way
"I guess the most important part about the HP Way, as I have felt it myself, is the fact that you were expected to do your job well; and expected to be able to do it. You were given the opportunity to do a good job and if you did a good job, you were given recognition for it."
"I think the amazing thing is that it has been preserved over all these years. Which means that the people, who absorbed the meaning of it in the beginning, have been able to pass it on through all these years and through all these different countries. It's really astonishing."
The first sales rep
"We met Norm Neeley originally when we were still on Addison, and I can remember him sitting in that little back office that used to be a gardener's cottage that had been turned into an office for us. He exuded confidence and good salesmanship."
"When we got this wonderful contract with Walt Disney, I can still remember Norman, David and Bill coming back to our house and sitting down at the dining room table. They were deciding just exactly how the agreement would work so that Norman could sell all the wonderful Hewlett-Packard [equipment]."
Note: The deal was struck and sealed with a simple handshake. Norm, Dave and Bill continued to do business in the same manner for another 50 years.
The onset of war, 1941
"This really changed our lives and I guess changed HP, too. The whole country, every individual was doing his or her best. Our part was to produce the best possible instruments we could, in whatever manner was needed."
"It's hard to separate the excitement of starting a new business, doing something really exciting, and the fact that it was war time."
"I think the atmosphere in the office and in the plant was geared [up]. We had gas rationing, and we had a map in the office with pins on it to represent employees, where each person lived, and I took care of worrying about the gas rationing and whether they would carpool."
"Believe me; we had to share as much as we could because we just didn't have enough gasoline to go anywhere. Then, we also had special luncheons and special parties to sell bonds to as many people as possible."
Note: War bonds were issued by the U.S. Government and sold to finance the war effort.
"It's always been absolutely wonderful that they seem to have complemented each other so well, and they seemed to know just when the other one was going to think about something."
"I won't say I haven't seen a disagreement. Many times they've discussed the pros and cons of - and taken one side or the other of - a particular discussion. But they always came out with a compromise that seemed to satisfy both of them. I think it's a remarkable relationship."
HP and the future
"I hope it will continue to make the contribution that it obviously has made to technological advances in our world, and I hope that it will continue to have so many fine, young people willing to trust their own futures and their careers to Hewlett-Packard."
"If we can just continue to be a place that will attract people to do that, I think we will have everything anyone could possibly hope for in the future."