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30 years later, Compaq leaves a legacy that benefits you

IT Best Practices Alert By Linda Musthaler, Network World
November 09, 2012 09:41 AM ET
Linda Musthaler
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Network World - On Nov. 4 in Houston, Compaq Computer Corporation co-founder and former CEO Rod Canion called a company meeting to order. Standing beside him were fellow co-founders Jim Harris and Bill Murto. Sitting in front of the three company fathers were close to 1,000 former Compaq employees -- which the former executives referred to as "the Dream Team." They had all gathered to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the birth of Compaq.

Canion told his colleagues the story of how Compaq came to be. He, Harris and Murto were all managers at Texas Instruments in the early 1980s. Seeing opportunities that new technology was opening, the three men decided to start a company of their own. They PC industry was nascent at the time, and they decided to toss their hats into the ring. They incorporated as Gateway Technology -- an attempt to hide their intentions of being a computer company -- and hired a small team of engineers who got to work designing a portable (luggable) personal computer. And yes, the story of drawing the first image of the computer on a place mat at a pie shop is true.

COMPUTER HISTORY: The first 2,000 years

It took Gateway Technology eight months to bring its first product to market on Nov. 4, 1982, at which time the company took the Compaq name. Canion said they expected to create a big company, but they never expected it would become the worldwide market leader in personal computers.

Thirty years after Compaq's launch onto the scene, Canion is getting nostalgic about what his company's legacy will be. He is writing a book, "The Compaq Revolution: An American Success Story," to tell the company's story and claim credit where credit is due. (As we all know, Compaq was absorbed by HP in 2002. HP retained the worldwide PC leadership position until Lenovo recently claimed the title.)

In his 30th anniversary company meeting, Canion listed just a few of Compaq's accomplishments in its short span of two decades: 
• Compaq had the best first year of sales of any company in American business history -- $111 million. 
• This was the youngest-ever firm to make the Fortune 500 list. 
• In 1987, Compaq hit the $1 billion revenue mark, taking the least amount of time of any company in history to reach that milestone. 
• Compaq was the first company to introduce a computer built on the Intel 80386 chip, beating IBM to market with a new generation of computers.

The former employees listed their own company accomplishment: being one of the greatest place to work, at least in Compaq's early years. One person shouted out to Canion, "This company was like a family!" Hundreds of people nodded their heads in agreement, including the founders.

While these and other achievements are noteworthy, Canion says that Compaq's legacy is that it stayed true to its roots as being "industry standard." That legacy carries through even now in that the devices and software we use today are not proprietary and divisive, even as we transition from PCs to smartphones and tablets. Canion reminded his team of the back story of creating an industry standard.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.

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