Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Merger of Agilent, Varian Brings Two Companies Full Circle

Merger of Agilent, Varian Brings Two Companies Full Circle

By Brandon Bailey

More than 60 years ago, a group of young scientists and engineers were getting ready to change the world. Brothers Sigurd and Russell Varian started a company to develop electron tubes and other cutting-edge devices, with help from several Stanford instructors and grad students who were also pals with Bill Hewlett and David Packard.

Varian Associates would become one of the first tenants of the Stanford Research Park, later joined by Hewlett-Packard and a host of other high-tech companies. In their early years, Packard served on Varian's board and, the story goes, let the Varian crew borrow tools from the HP supply shed. Varian co-founder Edward Ginzton, who would later help build the Stanford Linear Accelerator, raced Hewlett to see whose car could reach the top of Page Mill Road first.

Now that story is coming full circle, as a company that was spun off from the renowned Hewlett-Packard is preparing to buy a company that was spun off from Varian Associates — which is not quite as well-known but has a notable history of innovation in fields ranging from radar and telecommunications to semiconductors and health science.

The purchase of Varian by Agilent Technologies, in a $1.5 billion deal announced last week, will reunite elements of two companies started by visionaries who shared a common belief in the power of technology and the importance of treating workers with collegiality and respect, said Stanford science historian Henry Lowood.

The deal could almost be considered "harmonic convergence," added local author John McLaughlin, who has written about the early days of the tech industry here. Varian Associates and HP, he said, "helped create the foundation of Silicon Valley."

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