A Publication for West Coast Alumni and Friends
A Troubleshooter with Great Aim
"I found that it was fun to take care of the customer. I liked delivering service."
One morning 29 years ago, Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard turned to a junior engineer named Wil Houde and told him, "Find what you do well and just keep doing it."
In junior high school, Houde, who lives today in Los Gatos, Calif., had worked in his uncle's radio shop in Southbridge, Mass., doing bookkeeping and repairs, and installing TV antennas. "When we went on house calls," he says, "I found that it was fun to take care of the customer. I liked delivering service. I think this early experience helped me understand David Packard's advice." Spurred on by his father, a warehouse manager at American Optical Company who prized education, Houde became the first person in his family to attend college. Though hit by the Depression, his father saw to it that he received a scholarship from American Optical, and his grandfather added $1,000 from eked-out savings.
To help finance his studies at WPI, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering, he worked as a radio engineer at an AM station in Worcester. After graduation, he joined the AT&T management training program, which sent him to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to earn his MBA.
Houde later joined Hewlett-Packard, where he would eventually oversee worldwide service for the company's Medical Products Group. One of its products was a monitor that had to be fixed on site in intensive care units. He modularized the monitor's design to make it easier to repair and turned 'bench guys' into on-site technicians. After talking with customers to find out their needs, he persuaded the HP field sales force to begin selling service.
"I pushed to make service a business, not just a sales tool," he says. In the process, he pioneered the idea that service could be a profit center for the company. He later founded the computer support division for HP's Computer Products Group, before moving on to Apple Computer to become vice president and general manager of the division that built, sold and supported the Apple II and Apple III. As a member of the company's executive staff, he oversaw improvements in Apple's consumer support and distribution that were instrumental in making Apple a credible company in its early days.
He went on to establish ViMart Corp., a maker of interactive laser disk systems for personal computers, and helped found E*TRADE, the pioneering online stock trading company. He led customer support at Altos Computer before creating Seehorn Technologies to take advantage of evolving technologies in video editing. Today he is president of W. J. Houde & Associates, a small-business consulting firm in Saratoga, Calif.
WPI has recognized Houde's career with its Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement and an honorary doctorate in engineering. A trustee emeritus, he was the first chair of the University's Electrical Engineering Advisory Board and was instrumental in launching the Silicon Valley Project Center.
Summarizing how he has pursued David Packard's long-ago advice, Houde offers this plan of action: "Look to the horizon to see the shape of things; define the sequence of steps to move ahead; then provide leadership to the team making the progress." The troubleshooter keeps on fixing email@example.com
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Last modified: Nov 14, 2003, 08:16 EST