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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 13:20 GMT
Shareholders hail 'historic' vote
Hewlet-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina
Carly Fiorina has claimed victory
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By Maggie Shiels
in Silicon Valley
line
The debate on the merger between Hewlett Packard (HP) and Compaq may so far have been dominated by grey, faceless institutional investors, but Tuesday's meeting of HP shareholders gave ordinary people a chance to shine.

More than a thousand shareholders attended the meeting at the Flint Centre in Cupertino, the earliest arriving just as the sun was coming up. So many turned up for the meeting that the start time had to be pushed back.

In the end the outcome was inconclusive. HP's chief executive Carly Fiorina claimed victory, while chief opponent Walter Hewitt said the result of the vote on the deal was "too close to call".

For most people, this was an occasion where they felt their vote really did count and that their decision could help shape the future of a company often credited with giving birth to Silicon Valley.

'Soap opera'

Michael Cox who works for HP described the day as an historical one for the Valley and one that he was proud to influence.

Protestor dressed in green
Green for no
"It's the first time I have attended an event like this that will have an impact on my future and today I am voting in favour of the deal because this is the best bet for me."

Carlos Avila, who also voted for the deal, admitted she could not resist the temptation to witness the last act in a tale that has gripped the business world.

"It's the biggest soap opera in Silicon Valley history and I couldn't miss it," she said.

Former HP employee Kyle Ohm added some colour to the day's proceedings by coming dressed from head to toe in green.

He also handed out green carnations in a nod to the green proxy papers that were used for voting against the deal.

"I want to get this message out that this is a bad deal for all and we need to get the company back to what it was."

Ovation

The two hour session was for the most part not too acrimonious, althought there was some booing when Ms Fiorina told a questioner that internal surveys gave her confidence that most workers supported the deal.

Protestors
Union protestors: 'This merger is about layoffs, nothing else'

When Walter Hewlett took his two minutes in front of the microphone, he was given a standing ovation.

From the floor he told the audience of largely former and current HP employees that "HP is not a relic of the past. For many decades, HP has represented a unique vision: the best an American corporation can be."

He was greeted with rapturous applause when he added, "the very public, very spirited debate over this merger has also been a debate about the soul of HP and what it means for America."

Layoff concerns

The issue of jobs was one that dominated the day's proceedings.

The company has already said that combining with Compaq to form the world's biggest computer entity will lead to about 15,000 layoffs.

A union delegation representing 40,000 European HP and Compaq workers flew to Cupertino to protest against the merger and demonstrate outside the centre.

Derek Lee of the French union CFDT said: "These job losses are the tip of the iceberg. This merger is about layoffs, nothing else."

See also:

19 Mar 02 | Business
Close vote on computer merger
14 Nov 01 | Business
Hewlett-Packard battles for Compaq
25 Jan 02 | Business
Compaq raises profits outlook
05 Sep 01 | Business
Jobs slashed in biggest PC merger
06 Sep 01 | Business
Tough sell for PC giants merger
04 Sep 01 | Business
Profile: HP's Carly Fiorina
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