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If you like Michael Dell's story, you might also like:
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Jeffrey Bezos,
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Michael Dell
Michael Dell
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Michael Dell Interview (page: 5 / 7)

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

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  Michael Dell

It sounds like you had skills as a salesman very early on.

Michael Dell: Yeah. I think that's a fair statement.

Where do you think that came from?

Michael Dell Interview Photo
Michael Dell: I wouldn't necessarily think of myself purely as a salesperson, but I think it was looking at problems from a different perspective, and listening very carefully to what the real problem was, and approaching it from a completely different angle and not being afraid to have a completely new thought to address a problem.

You took a very scientific approach to selling the newspapers. You just went out and figured out where they would be, the people that would buy newspapers.

Michael Dell: Yeah. It was data-driven. And actually, we applied some of those things into the Dell business. One of the other things that I found was that you could actually get lists of people that applied for mortgages, and that was another fantastic source of leads of people who wanted to buy the newspapers.

Because they were moving?

Michael Dell: They were moving to a new residence and they're like, "Oh, I got a new house. I'm nesting. Okay. The newspaper, that sounds like a good idea."

These days you might have a tougher time selling those newspapers.

Michael Dell: I wouldn't want to be selling newspapers right now. It was a fun business for a summer job when you're 16 years old.

You mentioned that you applied some of those data concepts to Dell. In what way?

Michael Dell: In Dell we created a business that was, at least from its origin, about directly connecting with the customer. And so it was direct marketing, taken to a whole new level, where whether it was on the phone, or through the mail, or -- obviously -- through the Internet. We have at Dell right now about two billion conversations a year with customers. And those conversations occur in just a myriad of ways, from obviously, to face-to-face meetings, to phone, e-mail, all sorts of conferences. All of that connection with our customers informs everything we do, in terms of new products, new services and how we evolve the business. And so this theme of listening has really been important for us.

Figuring out where the need might be.

Michael Dell: Yeah. Understanding the requirement.

We sort of have a very interesting place in the world. We're kind of in between all these technology ingredients that are evolving at an enormous pace, almost independent of need. They're really based on scientific principles and physical laws and how those can be extended and driven. So you have all these ingredients like microprocessors and software and memory and hard disk drives and rotating media, optical storage and networking and all these things. And then you have all of these billions of people out there who are trying to get something done, trying to be productive. They're trying to entertain themselves. They're trying to provide education, or medicine, or run a small business, or run a really big business or fire department or whatever -- hospital -- or whatever it might be. So we kind of see our job as, "How do we understand all those requirements? Take all these ingredients, and really make this as simple as possible, and allow the technology to be used by the most number of people in the world."

[ Key to Success ] Vision

What was your first encounter with a personal computer?

Michael Dell Interview Photo
Michael Dell: My first encounter with a personal computer was riding my bike home from school. There was a RadioShack in between my junior high school and my house. You know, at one time RadioShack was the leading personal computer company in the world. They had an incredibly simple PC, so I would kind of hang out at the store and wish that one day I could actually buy one of those.

Did you anticipate that this would become something everybody had to have in their home, in their work?

Michael Dell: I can't really say that I did. I knew that it was going to be a big deal, but I didn't know how big a deal. Certainly, I think, my concept of the macro-economic impact of productivity enhancement driven by computers -- I don't think anybody really captured or understood all that was about to happen in the next 25 years. But it certainly seemed like a great idea, and it was very fun for me.

I was, again, fascinated by this idea of a machine that could do computations. And being interested in math and sort of seeing how this machine could very rapidly do calculations that -- I could do them, but I wasn't nearly as fast as the computer. And then the idea of -- well okay, so you've got your brain, which has all sorts of power and capability; then you've got this computer, which has all sorts of power and capability -- kind of different though. And how do you combine those to the greatest possible effect? Now our industry is really still working on that. I mean, if you think about the interface between the computer and the person, it's still evolving tremendously, from simple screens and keyboards to the mice and voice, touch and all sorts of things that are evolving in how the man and the machine relate. There's still a lot to be done there. People that create things, it takes them an enormous amount of time, often, to leverage the power of computing all the way through to their creations. Well what if we could shrink that tremendously and automate a number of tasks that are just repeated? So there's still a lot of progress left in our industry.

The rapidity with which this became part of everyday life is astonishing to anyone who grew up in the analog age.

Michael Dell: I was right in the middle of it and it just seemed like a natural progression. When you step back and think, "Wow, look at how fast it evolved!" and you look at how much has changed, it's pretty dramatic. But it all seemed like a logical progression. In our business we had eight years where we grew 80 percent per year. And then we had six years after that where we grew 60 percent per year. The compounded affect of that gets you up to tens of billions of dollars rather quickly. So we were really busy just meeting the demands and the opportunities that were in front of us.

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