Richard E. Belluzzo Executive Vice President, Hewlett Packard Co.

He's a 43-year-old company man, so he isn't your typical high-tech up-and-comer. But after a 22-year career that has earned him the nickname "Rocket Rick" from his HP peers, Rick Belluzzo is now heir apparent at Silicon Valley's largest company. And judging from his record, the mild-mannered Bay Area native is sure to be far more than a caretaker should he assume the corner office when 56-year-old CEO Lewis Platt retires.

Consider Belluzzo's accomplishments so far. After graduating from unheralded Golden Gate University, he quickly rose through the ranks of HP's laser printer business. His weapons: a take-no-prisoners approach when it came to landing sales and a touch for dealing with people -- a must in HP's egalitarian culture. Consider the time he ordered some 350,000 too many laser printer engines from supplier Canon. It was potentially a career-killer, but higher-ups liked his aggressive goals -- and the way he dealt with the

disaster: He flew to Japan to personally apologize to the factory workers at the Canon plant, which was shuttered as a result of the huge oversupply. Says James Langely, a longtime HPer: "He's a natural leader. People want to follow him."

After turning the HP LaserJet printer line into one of high-tech's richest gold mines, Belluzzo did the same in the early 1990s for the company's inkjet printer group -- HP's first major foray into a true consumer market. Since the early 1990s, HP has held more than 50% of this fast-growing market, and reaped huge profits from sales of ink cartridges and paper.

That led to his promotion in late 1995 to his current position in charge of all of HP's printer and computer businesses, which represent 80%-plus of HP's $38 billion in 1996 revenues. One reason: with sales of its proprietary Unix computers flagging, CEO Platt needed Belluzzo to break down walls between HP's highly independent units in order to help exploit its product breadth against rivals including Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Compaq. Belluzzo has moved quickly. One example: Rather than have separate divisions sell Wintel PCs and Unix workstations, he has combined the sales forces so that corporate buyers can deal with just one salesperson. He also forged a partnership with Microsoft, announced last April, to develop technology and services to make HP's PCs and Unix machines work together more easily.

So far, the jury is out as to whether Belluzzo's one-stop-selling scheme will work -- leaving him squarely on the hot seat. "Now, 80% of HP is under one manager," says one former HP executive. "If something goes wrong, it's going to be harder to hide [the blame]." So besides just tweaking HP's organization chart, Belluzzo is trying to inject more life into the fabled HP Way -- a code of behavior that promotes quality, fairness, and trust, but not always urgency. Last Christmas, after noting a cie la vie attitude of salespeople when HP lost a big computer contract, Belluzzo penned a long memo to

staffers. "We need to develop a 'NO EXCUSE' mentality toward winning business. We need to have the expectation that we can win every deal," he wrote. Among the changes since then: Any salesperson can now call on Belluzzo for help in closing a deal. Whether they call or not, Belluzzo seems destined to be in the thick of the action in Silicon Valley for years to come.