The company was formed by Rod Canion, Jim Harris and Bill Murto — former Texas Instruments senior managers. The name "COMPAQ" was derived from "Compatibility and Quality", as at its formation Compaq produced some of the first IBM PC compatible computers.
Once the largest supplier of personal computing systems in the world, Compaq existed as an independent corporation until 2002, when it merged with Hewlett-Packard.
Compaq was founded in February 1982 by Rod Canion, Jim Harris and Bill Murto, three senior managers from semiconductor manufacturer Texas Instruments. Each invested $1,000 to form the company. Their first venture capital came from Ben Rosen and Sevin Rosen Funds. Like many small startups with unique beginnings, the original Compaq PC was first sketched out on a placemat by the founders while dining in a local Houston restaurant, House of Pies.
Two key marketing executives in Compaq's early years, Jim D'Arezzo and Sparky Sparks, had come from IBM's PC Group. Other key executives responsible for the company's meteoric growth in the late 80s and early 90s were Ross A. Cooley, another former IBMer, who served for many years as SVP and GM North America; Michael Swavely, who was the company's chief marketing officer in the early years, and eventually ran the North America organization, later passing along that responsibility to Mr. Cooley, when Swavely retired. In the United States, Brendan A. "Mac" McLoughlin (another long time IBM executive) lead the company's field sales organization after starting up the Western U.S. Area of Operations. These gifted executives, along with other key contributors, including Kevin Ellington, Douglas Johns, Steven Flannigan, and Gary Stimac, helped the company surpass the IBM Corporation in all personal computer sales categories, after many predicted that none could compete with the behemoth.
In 1997, Compaq bought Tandem Computers, known for their NonStop server line. This acquisition instantly gave Compaq a presence in the higher end business computing market. In 1998, Compaq acquired Digital Equipment Corporation, the leading company in the previous generation of minicomputers during the 1970s and early 1980s. This acquisition made Compaq, at the time, the second largest computer maker in the world in terms of revenue. Unfortunately for the company, CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer, who engineered both mergers, had little vision for what the combined companies should do, or indeed how the three dramatically different cultures could work as a single entity, and Compaq struggled as a result. Pfeiffer was forced out as CEO in 1999 in a coup led by board chairman Ben Rosen and was succeeded by Michael Capellas, who had been serving as Compaq's CIO. Capellas was able to restore some of the luster lost in the latter part of the Pfeiffer era, but the company still struggled against lower-cost competitors such as Dell.
In 2001, Compaq engaged in a merger with Hewlett-Packard. Numerous large HP shareholders, including William Hewlett, publicly opposed the deal, which resulted in an impassioned public proxy battle between those for and against the deal.
The merger was approved only after the narrowest of margins, and allegations of vote buying (primarily involving an alleged last-second back-room deal with Deutsche Bank) haunted the new company.
It was subsequently disclosed that HP had retained Deutsche Bank's investment banking division in January 2002 to assist in the merger. HP had agreed to pay Deutsche Bank $1 million guaranteed, and another $1 million contingent upon approval of the merger. On August 19, 2003, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission charged Deutsche Bank with failing to disclose a material conflict of interest in its voting of client proxies for the merger and imposed a civil penalty of $750,000. Deutsche Bank consented without admitting or denying the findings.
Before the merger, Compaq's ticker symbol was CPQ. This was melded with Hewlett-Packard's previous symbol (HWP) to create the current symbol of HPQ.
Fiorina helmed HP for nearly three years after Capellas left. HP laid off thousands of former Compaq, DEC, HP, and Tandem employees, its stock price generally declined and profits did not perk up. Though the merger initially made it the number one PC maker, it soon lost the lead and further market share to Dell. In addition, the merging of stagnant Compaq with HP's lucrative printing and imaging division was criticized as that overshadowed the latter's profitability. In February 2005, the Board of Directors ousted Fiorina. Former Compaq CEO Capellas was mentioned by some as a potential successor, but several months afterwards, Mark Hurd was hired as CEO.
In late 2005, HPQ seemed to find its feet under the new leadership of Mark Hurd. At this same time Dell seemed to be faltering and HPQ took back the #1 sales position. Hurd separated the PC division from the imaging and printing division. HP's PC segment has since been reinvigorated and now generates more revenue than the traditionally more profitable printers.
Most Compaq products have been re-branded with the HP nameplate, such as the company's market leading ProLiant server line, while the Compaq brand remains on only some consumer-orientated products, notably Compaq Presario PCs. HP's business computers line was discontinued in favour of the Compaq Evo line, which was rebranded HP Compaq. HP's Jornada PDAs were replaced by Compaq iPAQ PDAs, which were renamed HP iPAQ.
In May 2007, HP in a press release announced a new logo for their Compaq Division to be placed on the new model Compaq Presarios.
Compaq sponsored Queens Park Rangers Football Club from 1994 to 1996, during their most recent two seasons as a Premier League club. Compaq sponsored Bradford Bulls Rugby League club from 1996 to 1998.
Two sports stadiums were named after the company: