HP icon Ray Smelek dies at 77
Iconic former Hewlett-Packard senior executive Ray Smelek died Monday. He was 77.
Smelek was remembered as an engineer and builder of the Idaho technology economy today by members of the Idaho Technology Council who were saddened by his death.
“Ray Smelek was one of the most transformational figures in the Idaho economy,” said Rich Raimondi, chairman of the Idaho Technology Council and a longtime vice-president of Hewlett-Packard. He is now president of Boise’s Bishop Kelly High School. “From the first day he visited on his assignment to help make the right call about the next location for Hewlett-Packard operations, Ray envisioned outstanding potential for Idaho as a contributor to HP’s success.”
Smelek, making his first stop on a tour of eleven potential cities in which to locate Hewlett-Packard’s newly authorized printer business, fell for Boise in 1973. He wrote in his memoir that Boise felt like his hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, and had most of the twenty or so attributes HP was looking for in its next major facility to be placed outside California. It wasn’t long before Ray Smelek shortened the list of candidate cities for this new global printer-business epicenter to one. Idaho was now a part of what would become one of the largest technology companies in the world.
“Idaho simply wouldn’t be what it is today if Ray hadn’t found what HP needed in Boise,” said Jay Larsen, founder and president of the Idaho Technology Council. “He sowed the seeds of billions of dollars’ worth of business for a state he was convinced had great potential.”
Smelek worked for Hewlett-Packard for 37 years, starting in the student engineering pool while he was an undergraduate in electrical engineering at San Jose State University.
He was inspired by HP’s legendary founders, Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett. Earning the trust of his employers and his colleagues, Ray advanced to a series of executive roles that culminated in two assignments that led to major growth for HP as a company – Vice President and Group General Manager of the worldwide Mass Storage Group, from 1988 to 1994, and General Manager of the Boise Division from 1973-1985. As Boise Division manager, Ray led the team that introduced a number of impact and laser printers into the marketplace worldwide – including Hewlett-Packard’s vaunted LaserJet in 1984.
But that was only part of Smelek’s legacy in Idaho high technology. Idaho Technology Council executive committee member Von Hansen, vice-president and general manager of HP, pointed out that after his long service at HP, Smelek devoted dozens more years to building companies and advancing higher education in Idaho to help drive economic growth.
“Idaho Technology Council members have a graphic that lays out the solar system of companies that HP and Ray Smelek helped to grow and it looks like the Milky Way,” Hansen said. “He was smart and energetic and people were drawn to him. His role in shaping the Idaho of today will never be forgotten by his colleagues in technology.”
(photo: courtesy Idaho Statesman)