Agilent, a Big Piece of the Old HP, Will Split in Two
Agilent announced yesterday that it will split into two companies: One, focused on life sciences and diagnostic equipment, will retain the name; the other, as yet unnamed, will focus on the electronic test-and-measurement equipment business, which, historically speaking, is the soul of the original HP founded in 1939 in the Palo Alto garage pictured at right. Its first product was an electronic oscillator, and test equipment remained a big focus into the 1990s.
Agilent was created in 1999 as the result of a spinoff from HP, a move that served as the closing act of the tenure of then-CEO Lew Platt. (Here’s a story on the spinoff at the time from The Wall Street Journal.) When it broke away from HP in November of 1999, the floating of Agilent’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange raised $2.1 billion, which was, before Facebook, a record for a Silicon Valley-based company. In 2001 it sold its health-care business to Philips. In 2009, it announced a big round of layoffs. And in 2010 it acquired Varian, a maker of medical devices. According to its latest headcount, Agilent employs nearly 21,000 people and, for the year ending October 2012, it had sales of almost $7 billion.
In 2000, during the years of the overheated market for tech stocks, Agilent shares peaked at $142, and have never been anywhere near as high since. Today, they’re rising by more than five percent on word of the split, as shareholders will get shares in both the old and new companies. Late this morning, the shares were up by $2.60, to $51.92, which amounts to a 27 percent increase this year.