Skip to content ↓

Hewlett donates $5M for presidential fund

William Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard (HP), has donated $5 million to MIT to endow a discretionary fund supporting leadership initiatives of the Institute president.

The new William R. Hewlett Presidential Leadership Fund draws its inspiration from Mr. Hewlett's 1986 MIT Commencement speech, said his son Walter, a co-trustee of the William R. Hewlett Trust, which is underwriting the endowment. That speech commemorated the 50th anniversary of William Hewlett's graduation from MIT with a master's degree in electrical engineering.

In talking to the graduating students, William Hewlett emphasized the importance to a high-tech society of innovation and creativity. The best way to find creative people, he said, was by "establishing an environment that fosters creativity and observing who flourishes."

Creating that kind of environment at colleges or universities is the special responsibility of their leaders, said Walter Hewlett. However, heads of nonprofit institutions rarely have sufficient discretionary resources to support important programs or new directions. The new Hewlett Presidential Leadership Fund will help the president of MIT identify and meet "really critical needs," he said, which might otherwise go unfunded.

Although MIT presidents have traditionally had some discretionary funds at their disposal, the Hewlett fund is the first to be endowed and the first to specifically support leadership initiatives in the President's Office.

In accepting the endowment, President Charles M. Vest said, "Bill Hewlett is a great American citizen whose accomplishments as a technologist and business leader are almost unparalleled. It is an honor for MIT to be recognized by him in this manner. We are proud to have his name associated with MIT."

Mr. Hewlett, now 86, began his legendary company in 1939 in a Palo Alto garage with a friend from his days at Stanford University, the late David Packard. (In addition to his MIT degree, Mr. Hewlett holds bachelor of arts and engineering degrees from Stanford University.) The first product of the company was a resistance-capacitance audio oscillator based on a design Mr. Hewlett developed when he was in graduate school. The audio oscillators helped make possible Walt Disney's 1940 movie Fantasia.

Now an HP director emeritus, Mr. Hewlett was actively involved in the company from 1939 until 1987, except during World War II when he was an Army officer. He was successively vice president, executive vice president, and president and chief executive officer (until 1983 when he became vice chair of the board of directors). He and Mr. Packard built the company into an international manufacturer of measurement and computation products and systems used in industry, business, engineering, medicine and education.

Mr. Hewlett has long had a keen interest in education and medicine, serving as a trustee of Mills College in Oakland, CA, and of Stanford. He was board president and then a director of the Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital Center (now Stanford Medical Center), a director of the Kaiser Foundation Hospital and Health Plan and the Drug Abuse Council in Washington, D.C. He holds 13 honorary degrees from US colleges and universities and one from the University of Bologna in Italy.

His philanthropic activities have been conducted primarily through the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which he established with his late wife in 1966. In 1995, Mr. Hewlett supported the founding of the Public Policy Institute of California with an endowment of $70 million.

From its publication in 1996, The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company by Mr. Packard has been on best-seller lists of business books. It describes HP's widely admired system of "management by wandering around" and other strategies for improving quality, lowering costs and expanding markets.

A version of this article appeared in the May 5, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 29).

Related Topics

More MIT News

The book cover has bright yellow lights like fireflies, and says, “The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science; Alan Lightman, best-selling author of Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine.” On the right is a portrait of Alan Lightman.

Minds wide open

Alan Lightman’s new book asks how a sense of transcendence can exist in brains made of atoms, molecules, and neurons.

Read full story