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If you like Michael Dell's story, you might also like:
Timothy Berners-Lee,
Jeffrey Bezos,
Stephen Case,
Lawrence Ellison,
Bill Gates,
Jeong Kim,
Craig McCaw,
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Michael Dell
Michael Dell
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Michael Dell Interview (page: 4 / 7)

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

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  Michael Dell

Tell us about your childhood. Were you a tinkerer? Were you always playing with gadgets?

Michael Dell: I liked to take things apart. I was always taking apart telephones, radios, televisions, sort of anything electronic I could get my hands on. I liked to kind of see how it worked and sometimes I'd put them back together too. But I was mostly interested in understanding how things worked.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Where did you grow up?

Michael Dell: I grew up in Houston, Texas. My father was a doctor, and my mother was a stockbroker and financial consultant. I have a an old brother and a younger brother, so I was the middle child.

When I was in the seventh grade, I was in an advanced math class. And in my math teacher's classroom at the junior high school I went to, they got the first teletype terminal at the school. And this was of course before personal computers, and basically you could like write a program and send it off to a big mainframe -- the answer would come back. And I became kind of, you know, fascinated with this idea of a computing machine. I thought that was pretty cool, so I would sort of program this teletype terminal and sort of learned all I could about computers.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

What kind of student were you?

Michael Dell Interview Photo
Michael Dell: I was an okay student. In math and science I was a better student. If I was interested in the subject I'd do a little better, but I wasn't particularly a high-achieving student.

Did you like to read?

Michael Dell: I liked to read. I was particularly interested in science, either real science or science fiction. Those kind of things fascinated me. My parents were always talking about the economy and the stock market, and the oil crisis back in the '70s. I found those things pretty interesting too, so I would read about business and investing and playing around with the stock market. I thought that was pretty interesting too.

Do you remember any particular books -- science books or science fiction -- that you liked?

Michael Dell: I can't say I had any that particularly struck me, you know. I definitely remember reading Scientific American when that would come. I'd be really interested to see what was going on, the latest frontiers of science.

Is it true that you began to speculate in the stock market at age 13?

Michael Dell: My mother was a financial consultant, so she was immersed in the world of stocks and bonds, and I kind of became interested in currencies and interest rates and what was going on with commodity prices. Kind of an odd thing for a 13-year-old to be doing, but I found it interesting and would sort of read reports and started playing around and investing in things and just found that whole idea fascinating.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Do you mean you were literally investing with real money?

Michael Dell: Yes.

Your mom was fine with that?

Michael Dell Interview Photo
Michael Dell: Yeah, she was. She was totally fine with that. I had a couple of interesting jobs. I didn't actually have any need for income as a child, but I felt compelled to earn an income to fund my hobbies. So I was 12 when I got my first job. I was a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant and got promoted to be the water boy. And then I was assistant maître d'. So I was moving up pretty quickly in the Chinese restaurant business. And then I got recruited away to a Mexican restaurant. I was still pretty young -- 12 or 13 years old. And then I got a kind of interesting job. I was working at a stamp and coin store. And one of my jobs was -- when people would come and they wanted to sell their rings or silver -- I would assess the metal and calculate what it was really worth and then try to negotiate with them, to buy it at a good price.

How old were you?

Michael Dell: I was like 14 years old. So that was a lot of fun. And then, when I was 16, I started to be able to drive. Of course that really expands the number of things you can do, because previously your only method of transportation is a bicycle or getting your parents to take you or something like that. So it kind of limited the available job opportunities.

When I was 16, I got this job working for a newspaper in Houston, and my job was to sell subscriptions to the paper on the telephone. And I realized two things when I was doing this. I realized that people that were buying the newspaper generally had two things in common. Either they were moving to a new residence or they were getting married. And it turns out that you could go find information about both of those things in enormous quantities. So in the state that I lived in -- in Texas -- when you want to get a marriage license you have to file with the state and it's public information, particularly the address that you want the license sent to once it's issued. So I hired all of my friends and went to every county in the surrounding 16 counties in Houston, captured the addresses of all the people that applied for marriage licenses and sent them a direct mail offer to offer them the newspaper for a free trial and then a subscription, and ended up making a fair sum of money for a teenager.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

How much?

Michael Dell: I made about $18,000 in one year. My government economics teacher was particularly upset with me because we had this assignment in class to fill out our tax return, and so I filled out my tax return and turned it in. She said, "Well this is obviously wrong."

She thought you were making this up?

Michael Dell: Yeah, I said "No. I did the assignment. This is my tax return." And she said, "Well this can't be right. You made more money than I did!" She was kind of upset with me.

Who can blame her?

Michael Dell: But I was having a good time. I was having fun. It was kind of like a big, big game for me.

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This page last revised on Aug 01, 2008 17:53 EDT