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HP and HPE mark 50 years in New Zealand

Hewlett-Packard arrived in New Zealand just as it was launching into the fast emerging corporate computing market.
The world was in a state of flux in 1967, but so was HP as it arrived in New Zealand.

The world was in a state of flux in 1967, but so was HP as it arrived in New Zealand.

1967. The Vietnam War was getting uglier while in the US it was the Summer of Love. In New Zealand, the Strongman coal mine exploded with the loss of 19 men. The six o'clock swill was ending and decimal currency arriving.

Also arriving was Hewlett-Packard, the company famous not as now for its computers, but as a maker of electronic testing equipment.

The year before, HP had released its first line of minicomputers, the HP 2100 and HP 1000 series, beginning a journey that would make it the biggest PC manufacturer worldwide in 2007, a crown the company held until 2013 when Lenovo claimed the top spot, before reclaiming it again in 2017.

Marking 50 years in New Zealand at an event in HP's Viaduct headquarters in Auckland last night, HP managing director Grant Hopkins ceded the stage to 30-year veteran market development manager Simon Molloy, who rolled back the clock for a brisk trip through company history.

Hewlett-Packard NZ was registered as a company in August of 1967, Hopkins told a small crowd of key staff and partners.

"50 years is pretty exciting and we are not the only business that should be celebrating today," he said. "Our friends down on the third level HPE, obviously is 50 years incorporated as well."

In late 2015, Hewlett-Packard split into two separate companies. HP Inc which runs the PC and printing and associated businesses, and enterprise computing business HPE - that change came with massive worldwide layoffs.

Last year, in what was dubbed a "spin-merger", HPE split off its consulting business and merged it with CSC to form DXC.

Hopkins thanked partners for their support and said all parts of the business were tracking very well with global sales up 10 percent year on year, describing New Zealand as a "shining star" in the company.

Grant Hopkins, HP managing director, marks a milestone.
Grant Hopkins, HP managing director, marks a milestone.

After a celebratory video, Molloy took the stage to debunk the myth he was at HP in 1967.

"I actually joined HP in 1982," he said. "When I was first out of University I got a job in an engineering firm and I learnt to program on a HP desktop computer, which was quite rare in those days. I really became a fanboy of HP even back then."

After his OE, Molloy told a recruiter he'd love to join HP and he's still there 35 years later including one spell away from the company with Olivetti.

Coming back to HP was a massive contrast, he said, with "much shorter lunches and less alcohol at lunchtime". There was also a contrast in cultural values, with HP very focused on customer satisfaction and employee development.

Acknowledging historical notes provided by former employee Peter Romeyn, Molloy said HP bought out its distributor in New Zealand to take a direct presence here.

At the time global revenue was around US$250 million. By the time Molloy joined in 1982 it had reached around US$8 billion - revenue now is around $60 billion.

"It was very exciting times then as now for HP," Molloy said. "Calculators were big. In the 70s if you didn't have a HP calculator and you were an engineer, you just weren't there. It was the smartphone of the 70s."

Computers were first developed for use in HP's factories producing testing equipment.

"HP was quite hip in the 80s," Molloy said. "It had a management style that was renowned. We used terms like MBWA, management by walking around, and also matrix management, where you had lots of bosses rather than one.

"I'm not sure whether that was a good thing or not, but it was very cool and there were quite a few books written around the time that referenced HP's management style."

Networking progress was measured in bauds, faxes were just arriving, typewriters were still in use and snail mail ruled - "it was incredibly primitive and you wonder how we got anything done, but we did," he said.

The biggest HP miss was turning down Steve Wozniak's protoype of a personal computer, developed in HP labs, but HP quickly reclaimed that lost ground.

In 1989, the company kitted-out its global sales team out with new notebooks, the HP Portable Plus, which was leading edge at the time.

Laserjet printers arrived around the same time anlong with inkjets boasting 132 nozzles. Current technology offers 48,000 nozzles.

"It blows me away how this engineering develops and you'll see the same technology in the 3D printers coming down the track," Molloy added.

Freightways was a huge local customer using HP's minicomputers - it was incredibly innovative and spawned a number of other companies including Netways Communications, a leading networker, which became part of Telecom, and Computertime, which later became Axon Computertime and is now part of Dimension Data.

"We're really defined by our customers," Molloy said. "We've had 25, 30, 50 years with various customers and that really is the core value HP brings to the market, that long-term relationship with customers.

"50 years is a milestone for HP in New Zealand and I'm very proud to represent them. Always have been."