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Oct 10

ITC Hall Of Fame Dinner

Posted by: Mark Solon        

On October 27, The Idaho Technology Council will honor Ray Smelek & Dick Hackborn as the first inductees into the new Idaho Technology Hall of Fame.

Ray Smelek - After a circuitous route landed him in Silicon Valley, Ray Smelek found himself in the early stages of the technology revolution and joined a fledgling company called Hewlett Packard in 1957. After a number of successful assignments, in 1973 he was chartered by Bill Hewlett to get HP into the printer business. Ray selected Boise, Idaho for the printer business, a decision that would forever alter the landscape of this sleepy little mountain town. The only way to describe the courage it took Ray to champion the LaserJet is to share a passage from a book called The HP Phenomenon, authored by my good friend Chuck House (another HP legend who holds HP’s only Medal of Defiance, awarded by David Packard for “extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty”):

Smelek stood alone at the January 1984 General Manager’s meeting. He said “we’re going to introduce this product in about three months and I know we can sell fifty thousand” and they laughed him out of the room. They’d never sold fifty thousand of anything. The VP of Engineering the next day named the LaserJet one of the top new products in the company. He said “I probably had twenty people afterwards say, “You idiot-that LaserJet isn’t ours and it’s horseshit stuff and it’s a market we can’t serve. Why would you select something like that?”

Ray Smelek

The rest of it as they say, is history. The LaserJet printer, developed in Boise, became Hewlett Packard’s biggest selling product ever. Introduced in 1984, over 100 million have now been sold and the printer division in Boise has employed thousands and thousands of high-tech workers over the years, many of whom have gone on to start their own tech startups.

Ray retired from Hewlett Packard in 1994 and led several other Boise high-tech businesses, including Extended Systems and The Network Group, where he was working when I first met him in 2000. We became fast friends and Ray was a tremendous supporter and founding member of the Highway 12 Ventures advisory board. Through the years Ray has served as a mentor, friend and advisor to the firm and we’re thrilled that the ITC has chosen to honor him at its inaugural Hall of Fame dinner.

Dick Hackborn

Dick Hackborn - The fact that this tiny thumbnail photo of Dick Hackborn was the only picture I could find on the web to add to this post, despite the fact that he spent almost his entire career as a senior executive at Hewlett Packard and was ultimately the Chairman of the Board for six years (not to mention a board member of Microsoft) speaks volumes to Dick’s quiet and selfless nature. Make no mistake about it though, Dick has been one of the most influential technology leaders in the world for many decades and along with Ray, he has his own thumbprint on the legacy of Hewlett Packard in Boise, even turning down the corporate CEO role years ago so that he and his wife could continue to call Boise home.

In the book “Bill & Dave: how Hewlett and Packard built the world’s greatest company”, author Michael Malone describes Dick: “Dick Hackborn was everything one could ask for in a strategic executive. He was brilliant, audacious and clever - and he had a gift for enlisting talented people to join him in his latest corporate crusade. he took a me-too product and created one of the most exciting and celebrated business in all of electronics. In that respect, he was, of all the thousands of employees at Hewlett Packard, the most like Bill and Dave”.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Dick. John Stedman (also a Highway 12 advisory board member and one of the top executives who worked with Dick for many years in Boise) had invited Pam and I to have dinner at his house with his lovely wife Linda, along with Dick and his wife Sondra. I remember Pam and I being quite nervous in the car on the way to John’s home. After all, how often do you get to share an intimate dinner with a genuine legend of the technology world? Our jitters however were short-lived. Dick’s soft-spoken manner and self-effacing style immediately put Pam and I at ease and we were treated to a magical evening listening to the stories of how Silicon Valley was built from one of the giants who was there building it.

Just as importantly to their contributions to the technology community in Boise, Dick and Ray (along with their wonderful wives, Sondra & Candy) have been incredibly generous with their time and money to dozens of worthy causes over the years and helped (along with other corporate community leaders like Gary Michael, George Harad, Steve Appleton and many others) to create a corporate philanthropy culture here that still exists today. We are truly lucky that Ray and Dick chose to call Boise home and I urge you to come help honor them at what will surely be a night to remember. Please join my partners and I in paying tribute to these two visionary gentlemen and celebrating the first year of The Idaho Technology Council. You can buy your tickets here and I look forward to seeing you on October 27!


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