Former Hewlett-Packard senior executive Ray Smelek, who was instrumental in bringing HP’s printer division to Boise, died Sept. 3 at age 77.
Smelek worked for HP for 37 years. He began his career there in the student engineering pool while he was still an undergraduate in electrical engineering at San Jose State University. He advanced through the company, becoming vice president and group general manager of the worldwide mass storage group from 1988 to 1994, and general manager of the Boise Division from 1973-1985.
Smelek was on the HP site selection crew in 1973 that would eventually choose Boise as the company’s headquarters for its new printer division.
“Right away, it felt like home to me,” he wrote in his memoir. The company gave him the go-ahead, and by September of 1973 he had moved his family to Boise. By the end of 1975, Smelek’s memoir states, the Boise site had 300 employees.
During Smelek’s time as Boise Division manager, he led the team that introduced several printers into the marketplace, including HP’s LaserJet in 1984. Smelek retired from HP in 1994.
“Idaho simply wouldn’t be what it is today if Ray hadn’t found what HP needed in Boise,” Jay Larsen, founder and president of the Idaho Technology Council, said in a news release. “He sowed the seeds of billions of dollars’ worth of business for a state he was convinced had great potential.”
Smelek was active in Boise during his time at HP. He was chairman of Boise State University’s first advisory board to create the College of Engineering. He was co-chairman of the Treasure Valley YMCA’s $13 million capital campaign. He was chairman of the Board of Trustees at Albertson College (now College of Idaho). Then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne appointed Smelek to serve on the Governor’s Technology Task Force and the Governor’s Excellence in Education board. In 2002, Albertson College awarded him an honorary doctorate degree after he had served more than 20 years on the Board of Trustees. He was the inaugural inductee in the ITC’s Hall of Fame.
Smelek also helped form other high-tech companies in Idaho, including Extended Systems (which is now part of Sybase), the Network Group (which is now part of Synoptek), Learned-Mahn and Apexx Technology, according to the ITC news release.
“He was smart and energetic and people were drawn to him,” said ITC executive committee member Von Hansen in the news release. “His role in shaping the Idaho of today will never be forgotten by his colleagues in technology.”