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Monday, December 01, 2003 - Page updated at 02:11 P.M.

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Former head of Hewlett-Packard may bring calming influence to Boeing board

By Bradley Meacham
Seattle Times business reporter

Lew Platt
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Lew Platt, Boeing's new chairman, may be best known for making sharp changes in his company's direction only when there's no other choice.

As the top executive of Hewlett-Packard during the 1990s he defended the genteel "HP Way" amid the rise of Silicon Valley's dog-eat-dog culture and was criticized for missing the Internet boom.

But his last moves as CEO were to spin off a chunk of the company's electronics business to focus on computers and to name Carly Fiorina as the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company.

"Lew's style is to listen and lead," said Ron Gonzales, mayor of San Jose and a former Hewlett-Packard executive. "He's the kind of person to spend a great amount of time with management and also listening carefully to the concerns of employees before making changes."

Like Boeing, Hewlett-Packard helped create its industry, only to see missed opportunities erode its leadership. During Platt's seven years atop Hewlett-Packard, the computer company lost market share to upstarts - but he was known for looking out for workers.

Lew Platt

Born: 1941

Education: Cornell University, mechanical engineering; Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania)

1966: joined Hewlett-Packard

1992: named top executive after founder David Packard retires

1999: named CEO of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates

Memberships: boards of Boeing, 7-Eleven, David & Lucile Packard Foundation

Home: Wine ranch in Sonoma County, Calif.

At Boeing, which named him non-executive board chairman today, Platt may be a calming presence as the company struggles to change course. In taking over some responsibilities from Phil Condit, he's charged with setting a new course for the company along with Harry Stonecipher, who was named Boeing chief executive.

During his career at Hewlett-Packard, some news reports referred to Platt as "plodding" while former co-workers called him a "straight shooter" who cared about employees and community.

An engineer, he joined the Palo Alto, Calif. company's medical instrument division in 1966 as a young graduate of Cornell and Wharton. Even after taking over from company co-founder David Packard in 1992, he was known for mixing with regular employees.

"I remember very fondly having lunch in the cafeteria and seeing Lew come in, pick up a tray just like everyone else, and wander over and engage employees," Gonzales said. "He was very comfortable with all levels of the workforce and made sure he stayed in touch with everyone."

Platt raised his two daughters himself after his first wife died of cancer in 1981. As an executive he championed flexible work hours that made it possible for mothers to contribute to the company. When he was the company's chief executive women led two of the company's four business units.

"I think valuing your employees pays off on the bottom line," he was quoted as saying in 1999.

Though Hewlett-Packard's workforce wasn't unionized, Platt looked out for employees, Gonzales said. Unlike executives who focused only on the corporate bottom line, Platt led a successful campaign to raise taxes for light rail and road improvements in Silicon Valley, easing worker commutes.

But by the late 1990s Hewlett-Packard, like Boeing today, had lost its lead and the company was repeatedly falling short of Wall Street expectations and its stock price suffered.

Platt spun of some of Hewlett-Packard's operations - creating the company now known as Agilent Technologies - and was on the four-member committee that named Fiorina as the company's first outside CEO.

After receiving a pay package worth $12 million in 1999, he spent two years as chief executive at wine maker Kendall-Jackson. Other duties include four years on Boeing's board, and serving on the boards of 7-Eleven and the David & Lucille Packard Foundation.


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