DALLAS -- If you have a business degree and wish it would earn you a Rolls-Royce, your taste in head-turning machines is passe. For a real status symbol, try sliding an HP out of your briefcase.
HP is tech-talk for Hewlett-Packard calculators. And in the dress-for-success world of high finance, says Dallas CPA Warren Howell, HPs are as hip as red suspenders, Polo sunglasses, Mont Blanc pens and the Wall Street Journal.
"I know several people who just carry them around," Mr. Howell says. "They have to carry something because they can't add or subtract, so they carry an HP, because it looks more prestigious."
John Walton, managing director of the Dallas investment banking firm Walton Johnson & Co., says he can't imagine doing business without his HP. "If you don't have an HP and you intend to get something done, you didn't come prepared to do business," he says.
The message is one Mr. Walton spreads as he gives financial planning seminars. "Last Friday, I whipped out my HP and told them, 'This is my gun. I can't go to war without it,' " he says. "It's like you get up in the morning and need your jogging shoes to run. HP is the same way."
Lucy Honig, spokeswoman for Hewlett-Packard's Oregon-based calculator division, won't reveal sales figures for the calculators. She does, however, acknowledge their popularity.
"We have some very popular high-end business calculators," she says. The most popular is the HP 12C, which lists for $94.95. It was introduced in 1981 -- right in the middle of the nation's fascination with business school. Other business models include the HP 14B ($79.95), HP 17BII ($110) and the HP 19BII ($175).
"HP obviously has great engineering," says Cathy Sang, a media relations manager at Texas Instruments.
"It's definitely a company that TI respects," she said. "They've focused on financial and scientific calculators. We've chosen to have a broader range of products."
Part of HP's allure is all its high-tech features. Every calculator can multiply, add, divide and subtract, but the HP has plenty of built-in functions.
Returns on investments, net present values, bond analyses and other complex equations are within a few keystrokes. HP users can amortize capital assets, calculate yields on bonds and convert currency and units of measure.
And the HP series of technical models, favored by engineers and other scientists, can generate graphs and store lists of information such as the periodic table of elements.
HP fans also like to talk about the product's durability. Hewlett-Packard receives fan mail from people who say their calculators continued to work after they ran over them with their trucks. They've also received letters from owners who say the calculators worked even after being dropped into lakes and bathtubs.
But the most alluring part of HP is its appearance, says Robert Dawson, president of Joe LaBarba Tax and Business Control Inc. "It looks real exotic," he says. "There are lots of mysterious-looking symbols on the keys."