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San Francisco – There was a brief flare-up of a mini mutual admiration society at HP's Preferred Partner Conference when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and HP chief Mark Hurd were asked during a Q&A session what each admired most about the others' organisation.

As host, Hurd went first and was succinct: "What I admire about Microsoft is their pure performance. Many people may have different views of Microsoft, but what is undeniable is the sheer performance of the company over the last 28 years.
"Good companies innovate and grow … develop [product] and grow … acquire and grow," he adds. "Great companies do all of this and sustain their growth.
"To go from a start-up to where they are now is unbelievable stuff – and they did this, fundamentally, with the same management from the beginning to now.
"I like companies that perform," Hurd says.
It was then Ballmer's turn on the microphone: "I admire the HP culture. From the legacy HP culture, to the culture of transformation as Mark Hurd has grown the company. HP continues to have a remarkable way, a system, a culture that nurtures projects and which lets it grow without snuffing this out.
"That's tough to do," he adds. "But it's even tougher to do in bigger companies. The breadth of the LaserJet business is proof of this – it's amazing to me where you can have stuff come through from the bottom up.
"A lot of credit must go to the founders – I've always marvelled at it," Ballmer says. "We've learnt a lot from HP, not only by imitating, but also by simply observing."
Ballmer also singled Hurd out.
"I've got to admire the operational performance of Mark Hurd and what he's done since taking the job just four years ago," he says. "I wouldn't be good at his job. There's so much in the business – hardware, software, networking, storage, services … the cost structure.
"I think to have the culture to do both the first (the legacy) and the discipline and management to do the second (transformation) is phenomenal," he says. "I have so much admiration and respect for that and obviously the transformation has had remarkable results.
"If you had told me HP was going to be bigger than IBM any time in the 1980s, I would have laughed my … back … off," Ballmer says.