PreCommerce Thought Leader Series: Vyomesh “VJ” Joshi on Cathedral Building vs. Breaking Rocks

VJAs I mentioned in our set up post for our PreCommerce thought leader series, we will be interviewing several of our speakers in advance of our events the week of March 9. Second up is Vyomesh “VJ” Joshi, former EVP at Hewlett Packard (credited with building HP’s printing business from the ground up).  For more information about our events during SXSW, go here.

VJ joined HP in 1980 as a research and development engineer and was promoted to vice president in January 2001. He eventually became EVP of the Imaging and Printing Group in February 2001. He also served as the executive sponsor for all HP operations and initiatives in India and was a member of HP’s Executive Council. VJ was also a member of the Yahoo! board of directors between 2005 and 2012.

Now onto the interview:

Note: The title of this post came from VJ’s framing of how leaders look at certain possibilities or problems. The idea is, are you “breaking rocks” or being overly focused on the task at hand or “building a cathedral” i.e. keeping an eye on the big picture. Both are correct depending on one’s context but this is a clever analogy that I plan to use frequently going forward.

[Aaron Strout] I hear you hold a pretty important patent from your early days at HP. Can you tell me more about that?
[Vyomesh Joshi] Many years ago we created a new “process” for innovation – I was an R&D engineer. At the time, the top problem in printing was the reliability of the ink cartridge. The cartridge wasn’t always “firing” in a consistent or accurate direction. This issue translated into lower quality printed pages and lacked efficiency (cost).  When customers use new technology, they need to have a great experience. The breakthrough I introduced at the time was using titanium as a layer for circuitry. This ended up being a breakthrough technology and created a sustainable competitive advantage for HP for years to come.

[AS] What are your observations of HP’s print business since you helped launch it back in the early 80’s?
[VJ] I started managing the printing business in 2001. At the time, every analyst we talked to informed me that we wouldn’t be able to grow this business. This was a bit of a problem as our founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, talked about always thinking about ways to grow the business. Our revenues for the print business in 2001 were $19 billion – our team helped take that to $28 billion by the time I retired in 2012. Our main focus was on innovation and our goal was to build a great value proposition for the customer. At the time, HP was focused on the total addressable “printer” market. The big breakthrough came when we decided to look at the total addressable “printing” market (books, newspapers, magazines, etc.). HP had only captured 2% of the “pages printed” market share at the time with a focus on speed, quality, reliability. We also looked for new areas of growth like the graphics business where we acquired Indigo, a digital offset printing company that helped drive growth in “printed pages.”

Internet printing also became big (connecting printing with the cloud) during my tenure as the President of the print business. In 2007, we were connecting through the cloud (iPrint). The thing I constantly focused on was anticipating where the market was going and looking at the market in a different way than our competitors.

[AS] During the last few years of your tenure at HP, you were also on the board of Yahoo! Where did they get lost and how did Marissa Mayer change things?
[VJ] Back in the 1990’s, Yahoo! was big in search. At some point in time, they lost their focus on innovation. But recently, they have re-focused on new ways of capturing information. Marissa has looked closely at how to reshape a media organization based on technology. For any technology company, the market is changing very rapidly. Companies really need to start thinking about continuing to change. Values are also critically important.

[AS] How much did HP’s culture (Bill & Dave/The HP Way) drive the way you lead the organization? Customers? Partners? Employees?
[VJ] HP was the only company I ever worked for. In the morning, Bill and Dave would be focused on business and driving growth. In the afternoon, they flipped hamburgers for employees. Observing them in action played a heavy role in informing my leadership style. Regarding the HP Way, there is a focus on five values (see below). These combined with HP’s seven objectives look at the balancing of soft (or people) skills with business skills.  Both are critically important.

Community involvement was also a key tenant of what they (and ultimately I) infused into our culture. Really making sure that employees were helping the community.

To give you a sense of the importance of people… in 1984 (a few years after I joined), the printing business had zero revenue. Employees were key to growing this into a multi-billion dollar business. What happened in 80’s and 90’s could and likely happen again.

The HP Way

We have trust and respect for individuals.
We approach each situation with the belief that people want to do a good job and will do so, given the proper tools and support. We attract highly capable, diverse, innovative people and recognize their efforts and contributions to the company. HP people contribute enthusiastically and share in the success that they make possible.

We focus on a high level of achievement and contribution.
Our customers expect HP products and services to be of the highest quality and to provide lasting value. To achieve this, all HP people, especially managers, must be leaders who generate enthusiasm and respond with extra effort to meet customer needs. Techniques and management practices which are effective today may be outdated in the future. For us to remain at the forefront in all our activities, people should always be looking for new and better ways to do their work.

We conduct our business with uncompromising integrity.
We expect HP people to be open and honest in their dealings to earn the trust and loyalty of others. People at every level are expected to adhere to the highest standards of business ethics and must understand that anything less is unacceptable. As a practical matter, ethical conduct cannot be assured by written HP policies and codes; it must be an integral part of the organization, a deeply ingrained tradition that is passed from one generation of employees to another.

We achieve our common objectives through teamwork.
We recognize that it is only through effective cooperation within and among organizations that we can achieve our goals. Our commitment is to work as a worldwide team to fulfill the expectations of our customers, shareholders and others who depend upon us. The benefits and obligations of doing business are shared among all HP people.

We encourage flexibility and innovation.
We create an inclusive work environment which supports the diversity of our people and stimulates innovation. We strive for overall objectives which are clearly stated and agreed upon, and allow people flexibility in working toward goals in ways that they help determine are best for the organization. HP people should personally accept responsibility and be encouraged to upgrade their skills and capabilities through ongoing training and development. This is especially important in a technical business where the rate of progress is rapid and where people are expected to adapt to change.

Circa 1992

HP Corporate Objectives

1. Profit. To recognize that profit is the best single measure of our contribution to society and the ultimate source of our corporate strength. We should attempt to achieve the maximum possible profit consistent with our other objectives.

2. Customers. To strive for continual improvement in the quality, usefulness, and value of the products and services we offer our customers.

3. Field of Interest. To concentrate our efforts, continually seeking new opportunities for growth but limiting our involvement to fields in which we have capability and can make a contribution.

4. Growth. To emphasize growth as a measure of strength and a requirement for survival.

5. Employees. To provide employment opportunities for HP people that include the opportunity to share in the company’s success, which they help make possible. To provide for them job security based on performance, and to provide the opportunity for personal satisfaction that comes from a sense of accomplishment in their work.

6. Organization. To maintain an organizational environment that fosters individual motivation, initiative and creativity, and a wide latitude of freedom in working toward established objectives and goals.

7. Citizenship. To meet the obligations of good citizenship by making contributions to the community and to the institutions in our society which generate the environment in which we operate.


[AS] Today: let’s talk current trends. What are you seeing? Where are things headed?
[VJ] Having a sense of how you look at a trend is the key to answering this question. How can you make a contribution? When computing started (HP, IBM), the trick was translating data into information. Google took that a step further and is a good example of translating information into insight. What’s next? I see this as the ability to translate insight into intelligence. Google needs to be careful on this front to not become complacent… they are showing signs of translating insight into intelligence (they are thinking about driver-less cars and extending life).

[AS] If you were to give one piece of advice for leaders, what would it be?
[VJ] Leaders need to lead. Their job is to create the market. Look into the future. And then making sure you are rewarding your people – they will follow if you are motivating them. Another recommendation is to consider whether or not you are “breaking rocks” or being overly focused on the task at hand or “building a cathedral” i.e. keeping an eye on the big picture. Too many leaders look at business through the former versus the latter.

Aaron Strout
Aaron Strout

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