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The HPMD Bullet
Summer '95
© Copyright 1995, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.
Vol. 1 Issue 1

Meet the Partners by Carolyn Lee

A year and a half has passed since the Happ brothers decided to combine their solo consulting efforts into HP Management Decisions. Looking at their level of success in such a brief time frame calls for an eager second look. After the following interview with Ed and Steve, the founding partners of HPMD, the reasons became obvious. The chemistry between the two forms a dynamic combination, bringing together years of top experience, refined intelligence, and a contagious humor.

I understand that the first time you both worked together, Ed, you actually hired Steve as a consultant to assist in the creation of a disaster recovery plan at the company you were currently working for. Why don't you tell us about that?

Ed: Now that was an interesting experience.

Steve: It was almost scary.

Ed: We should talk about that. We had never worked together. As a matter of fact, probably the only thing that we did during the past 15 years was talk a bit of shop and business on the frequent telephone calls that we had. Like every 6 months.

Steve: Twice a year.

Ed: So, what we did, working together... I'll sort of tell my perspective and then you can jump in here. We started talking about the problem at hand and I remember describing it in sort of quick, loose, panicking type of terms. Steve picked right up on it, launched right in, and we found that we were very much on the same wavelength, to the point where we started completing each others' sentences. I'd mention a thought or idea that I had come up with and Steve would confess to having the same idea. Of course, I was the customer and he was the consultant, so naturally he would say that.

"I think the more important thing was how we approached the problem from very much a common standpoint."

But I think the more important thing was approaching the problem solving from what was very much a common standpoint. You grew up in the mainframe data center environment and I grew up more with the desktop PC environment with information services while you were more in manufacturing. Despite this, the actual process of approaching a problem, discussing it and sort of mapping it out for the solution, we were very much in tune. If Steve would mention an idea, I would say, "yeah, that makes sense." Or if I would mention an idea, usually you had already thought about it.

"It was a sense of accelerating - accelerating ideas; building on each other. That's where we came upon the notion of 'Ping-Pong'' thinking."

Steve: What was nice, is that whenever you would start talking about something, I knew where you were going with it. I knew why you thought that way.

Ed: There was it was a sense of accelerating -- accelerating ideas, building on each other. That's where we came upon the notion of "Ping-Pong" thinking. That bouncing off of each other, back and forth, like the Ping-Pong ball or the tennis ball in the tennis match, was a way to arrive at the solution. And to talk through the problems. It was almost like a chain reaction -- like the atoms Ping-Ponging off of each other and before you know it, you've got something nuclear, you've got a major light bulb that blossoms out of it. I think that type of creative interaction, that type of bouncing off of each other in that way in the world of ideas, has served us well in the consulting arena.

Steve: Well, that's one of our main tools: the brainstorming session. And there's not really a methodology or anything that we can apply, because it's a matter of getting in there, throwing it open, and seeing what happens. I tell you, not just us, the teams that we work with, have come up with some pretty neat things just from brainstorming back and forth. And we have gotten a lot better at including the people in the room!

Ed: Yes, I think customers have embraced that type of discussion. I think the creative discussion of ideas is probably one of the real strengths of our consulting. But -- and here's probably where the real value added is -- there is not only the idea-a-minute type of marketing approach to things, that if left to itself, could run off in a million directions and never produce anything useful, and I think that that would only talk about one side of our business. The other side is terribly pragmatic in the sense of how do you turn it into deliverable? And I think there our project and product management backgrounds have really served us to think in terms of "deliverables"; something that you can put on the desktop and run, if it's technology, and if it's a management idea, that you actually implement it and something happens. That way, things are never left in the realm of ideas.

Steve: But you see, it's a strange combination of balance. Because one of your biggest talents is that you can come up with a million ideas, just going to town, right and left. I have a tendency, to keep pulling it back to the focus; back down to earth. And then you come right back around and you have a big emphasis on this "deliverable;" get something that is delivered; that we can write up; that you can get your hands around and get something.

Ed: To "productize" it.

Steve: Productize it, exactly. And so you go from the open universe, I start pulling you down to earth, and then when you hit the ground, it's in the box.

Ed: That's probably a pretty good description.

You mentioned earlier that you have an emphasis on information services. How does that differ from being computer consultants?

Steve: I think it's very different. Typical computer consultants, most of the time, have fixed methodologies, they are very geared toward technology, very geared toward project management, applying the specific technique to every project, really shoehorning it into the methodology. And there's a place for that in a lot of places.

Our experience, our background, has been both in technology and in management. You were Senior Vice President and I was Administrative Vice President. I had run data centers and computer centers.

Ed: So we both started as programmers, But we're not programmers. We can apply that knowledge in understanding the problems. But our emphasis in our business has not ever been to just deliver a piece of software.

There have been software applications as part of the solutions we've offered to customers, but it's always in conjunction with education; it's always in conjunction with the management context and the business context and because we've played very senior business roles as well. I think that's the difference. The fact is that you were a Vice President and I was a Senior VP and together we've got 35 years of hand's-on experience with a lion's share of that on the management level. That's a difference.

Steve: Well, I think that one of the reasons for our career successes was that management recognized that we were able to communicate with them.

Ed: That's a very good point, because I can remember VP's coming into me when I was an Applications Manager and asking me to explain something and being able to do it in non-technical terms and understand what their needs were and really to bridge that gap. And I think now, we think more as business people than we do as technologists, still having kept very current, I think, with the technology. I would say that if you had to draw the pie chart of our thinking now, I would say that it's more 70% management thinking and 30% technology.

Steve: I think that's probably right. But I remember, even as a programmer, I always approached programming assignments differently than anyone else. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to do that. When they told me to write an inventory control system to be used in one of the food freezers, my approach to it was, I need to go spend a week in a freezer. And it's cold.

Ed: Wasn't it really hard to work a keyboard in the freezer? I mean, didn't frost form on the keys?

Steve: Well, you laugh, you jest, but..

Ed: (He really did this!)

Steve: When we talked about the system, we came up with these little hand held radio frequency devices for the fork lift drivers to operate when they were in the freezer. But we didn't know, we didn't think about it, when we were back in the programming shop, these guys have big, thick gloves on. They can't operate one of these little hand held devices, they'd be pushing four buttons at the same time. But when I spent the time in the freezer, I had to put the gloves on and I had to hold this little thing and say, "How am I going to do this? Am I going to do it with a pencil?" So that's how I approached things. You had to do it. You had to be a part of it. You had to understand it before you could write any programs for it.

Ed: Interestingly, I think we approach management consulting the same way, because it's the people component of this that is the critical aspect of it. Coming up with the ideas, just as coming up with the technology and the techniques or the methods, is really only half of the equation. It's having it be used in a day to day environment and having it function well, that completes the picture. Part of the secret to productivity is that it gets used; it gets adopted. You can really talk about the success factor being very much tied to the adoption factor. If it's adopted, that's a key aspect of it. So I think having been people managers for a large part of our career and being very sensitive and concerned about the people that have to implement things, or the people who have to change; changing the way a company does something involves people adopting and embracing that change. And so that, also, has been a very strong part of not only our careers, but also of the management consulting that we do.

Can you make some kind of statement on your internal business philosophy and how that will continue to make you successful in the future?

Ed: Let's talk about service for awhile. I think that's very much built into our corporate philosophy. We've defined service, in one of our seminars, as "helping the other person achieve what they need to be successful;" to help them reach their goals so that they are successful and that our success is very much dependent, solely dependent on their success.

Steve: Vidal Sassoon.

Ed: Yes. The Vidal Sassoon theory of service marketing that we banter about, that "we don't look good unless you look good."

"Our customers are becoming better managers and being exposed to more ideas and thinking and trying new things as a result of working with us. That is our greatest testimony to success."

So I think the emphasis has been on helping people achieve their goals, not only in terms of their business, but in terms of their personal and career goals. I think that for some of our customers, we've given more advice on how to approach a management problem, or a personnel problem, or a career decision that they're facing. I think that that level of service interest, in taking an interest in how they are succeeding and doing their job, to the point of us fading into the background, and that our customers are becoming better managers and being exposed to more ideas and thinking and trying new things as a result of interacting with us, is our greatest testimony to success; the greatest testimony to us is how they've changed.

Steve: We're not focused on service because we decided that that was something that would make a company successful. I mean, you and I, independently have both been very, very interested in service. We do the same things. You go to a store and you notice

"Service is part of our make-up. It is not a philosophy that we've adopted because it's a good thing to do; it's just the way we are it's what we are, it's who we are."

some of the people doing things that are just driving their customers crazy. I can't leave that situation alone, it drives me up a wall. I'll find the manager and say, "Look, you know, here's the situation. You're going to drive your customers away." And I start giving them free consulting advice. I can't leave a situation where there's poor service going on. On the other side of the coin, I love to find an example of good service. And you're the same way, because you're a carnivorous reader and you eat all of that stuff up. And you have a tendency to write them all down so you can pass it on in presentations later as good examples of service.

Ed: That notion of the service examples, that we're both intensely interested in good service and in bad service, and in pointing it out when it occurs. I think that has been built it into our corporate philosophy.

Steve: It's part of our make-up. I mean it is not a philosophy that we've adopted because it's a good thing to do; it's just the way we are, it's what we are, it's who we are. We desire to make people happy with what we do. It's probably some neurosis -- some personality defect -- but we both have it.

Ed: The service gene?

Steve: Yes.

Ed: The service gene it is. And wanting to please the customer; wanting to please who we're working with; wanting them to be happy not only with the work, but to be happy with us. And want to come back and deal with us again. I think a lot of that is glib sayings in the service literature, but Steve's right, it's not something we've adopted because we thought it was a good business idea; it's really built into who we are and what our personal beliefs are. You know, it's something that's pretty natural for us.

If you're going to view service from the standpoint that part of your role in life is to help other people in their lives, then that becomes the foundation, the focus, the vortex from which you operate. It's not just something that's an added-on feature.

Steve: That's it in a nutshell; it's who we are.

Read part two of the interview in the Fall 1996 issue of The HPMD Bullet