Biographies of businessmen – be it a Carnegie, a Ford or a Steve Jobs – are usually just that: biographies first of the men, and secondarily of the subject personalities acting in the context of the businesses they created and managed.

One stands out, as much the biography of the business itself as of the two extraordinary personalities who founded, built and shaped it into “the most complete work experience of any major public corporation, ever.”

These words are those of Michael S. Malone, author of the best business biography ever, Bill and Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company. It is totally unique in the annals of business literature, again because of the uniqueness of its subject. That is, it tracks the animating spirit of the company as much as it does the rapidly evolving technologies.

And that’s because the story of this iconic tech company, started in a Silicon Valley garage on the first day of 1939, is not only about an enterprise that remained on the cutting edge for half a century – indeed, that defined for much of that time what and where the cutting edge was. It’s the saga of two complementary and even symbiotic minds, who strove almost to the ends of their lives to make and keep that company a family.

How do two scientists evolve into world-class entrepreneurs – a very special kind of personality – and yet manage to pursue that entrepreneurship in so nurturing a way, virtually inventing such employee benefits as corporate profit sharing and flex-time? This is the glorious mystery at the heart of Bill and Dave – a mystery which Mr. Malone comes as close to unravelling as anyone ever has, or will.

One of the many legends he recounts concerning the HP Way tells of a time when any other company would have laid off thousands of workers to restore profitability during a severe business downturn. Instead, after much soul-searching and brainstorming, Hewlett and Packard hit upon the idea of giving every employee – certainly including themselves – an unpaid holiday every other Friday (the so-called Nine-Day Fortnight). And of course, in gratitude, nearly everyone came to work on that day anyway – some to devise even more innovation.  In just this way, the employer/employee relationship at HP was elevated to the status of a social contract.    

Like Camelot, HP would eventually lose its way with the retirement of the two aging founders – who would still come back one last time to pull it together. But succeeding CEOs possessed progressively less of Bill and Dave’s genius. (Mr. Malone’s treatment of the Carly Fiorina era is particularly blood-curdling.) This subject carries over into today’s headlines, with Ms. Whitman bent on splitting the company up yet again.

This is an absolutely thrilling book, and even more of an achievement than it may first appear, in that Mr. Malone – a longtime HP employee and a first-rate Silicon Valley journalist – manages to maintain a consistently even hand, even as his love for the subject (the institution and the men) shines through. There are practical, useful lessons for all of us entrepreneurs – for that is what you and I are – in the luminous Bill and Dave.

© 2015 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Nick reviews current books, articles and research findings in the “Resources” feature of his monthly newsletter, Nick Murray Interactive. To download the most recent sample issue, visit and click on “Newsletter.”