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HP, Compaq top IT exec dies

Bob Napier, the executive who led the merging of the computer systems of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer, dies after a battle with cancer.

Bob Napier, the executive who led the merging of the computer systems of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 56.

Napier garnered praise for having many of HP's computer systems integrated on May 7, 2002, the day "the new HP" was launched. On that day, employees arrived at work to find they had a single e-mail system, combined corporate and internal Web sites, and a unified help desk.

"Bob was a great leader and a great friend and colleague to all of us," HP CEO Carly Fiorina said in an e-mail to HP employees. "Bob was one of those rare individuals who could both challenge and support, who was both tough and compassionate. He made us perform, he made us think, he made us laugh."

Vallerie Parrish-Porter, the head information officer for HP's PC unit, is serving as acting chief information officer, HP said.

Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday in New Jersey. HP is also planning a memorial service in Houston, where Napier worked, first as Compaq's chief information officer and then in the same role for HP.

While HP was able to do a good deal of computer systems integration during its premerger planning, other aspects of merging the two companies' systems remained a longer-term project. Peter Blackmore, head of HP's Enterprise Systems Group, has noted that the information technology integration was one of the toughest parts of the deal. While both companies used some of the same large programs, such as SAP and PeopleSoft, there were other areas where the two were running distinctly different platforms.

Asked whether the merger was a dream or a nightmare, Napier told CNET last year: "Some days it was a dream; some days it was a nightmare. At the end of the day, it was more of a dream and less of a nightmare. It was like sitting in the data center in Houston on Dec. 31, 1999, watching the clocks around the world and hoping you got everything covered."

In the same , Napier reflected on the changes he had seen in his 30 years as a tech executive as well as what excited him about the future, including ideas such as Web services and wireless technology. Napier also said he was addicted to his BlackBerry, which he referred to as the "CrackBerry."

Vision Series

Managing the computer systems of a company
with $81 billion in annual revenue is a
round-the-clock job for Bob Napier.

Before joining Compaq, Napier was the CIO for a number of other organizations, including General Motors' Delphi Automotive Systems, Mariner Post-Acute Network, Lockheed Information Management Services and Lucent Technologies, where he first worked with Fiorina. Napier got his start in technology management while serving in the Navy.

Napier is survived by his wife, Cheryl, daughter, Kelly, and sons Kevin and Brian.

Although not frequently in the limelight, Napier had strong opinions about technology and how it should be implemented.

Jeff Clarke, the former chief financial officer at Compaq and now head of HP's supply chain operations, said Napier was a technology visionary who also had a passion for serving his customers.

"You could just feel every day how he thought about customers and how he thought about technology," Clarke said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "He felt a real obligation."

One area where Napier's opinions diverged from the HP company line was on the topic of outsourcing.

"I don't know too many successes out there from the 1995, 1996 glory days of outsourcing," he said last year. "We all learned through the process that signing 10-year deals where you abdicated responsibility to somebody else doesn't work."

While acknowledging that others might disagree with that assessment, Napier said it is better to contract out only for a particular technology task, if at all.

"If somebody is an expert at e-mail and you're not, and somebody can do it better for you, go for it," Napier said. "I might consider allowing somebody to fly the plane for me, but I'm going to be the one who owns the flight plan."

When asked what his biggest technology nightmare was, Napier said it would be "being above the fold in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times because I had some major failure."

That never happened, co-workers said.

"It's a testament to his ability as a CIO that it didn't," Clarke said.