Michael Saul Dell was born in Houston, Texas. His father was an orthodontist, his mother a financial consultant and stockbroker. From an early age, Michael Dell was fascinated by both business and electronics, and couldn't wait to combine his two passions. At age eight he applied to take a high school equivalency exam, hoping to get out of school and into the business world faster. By his early teens, he was using the money he earned from part-time jobs to invest in stocks and precious metals. Gadgets and everything electronic continued to fascinate him; at age 15, he bought one of the first Apple computers and immediately disassembled it, to see if he could put it back together. In high school he took a job selling newspaper subscriptions and used his data research skills to identify an untapped customer base, earning $18,000 in a single year. He rewarded himself with a new computer and a BMW, and was soon planning a business venture of his own.
Although he had promised his parents to curtail his business activities and concentrate on his studies, by spring vacation he had to break the news: his venture was writing sales of $80,000 a month. He was ready to quit school and run his business full-time. He incorporated the company -- initially called PC's Limited -- and pioneered selling personal computers by telephone order. By 1986, PC's Limited was offering the first toll-free technical support service, a practice later adopted widely in the computer industry.
In 1988, Michael Dell changed the firm's name to Dell Computer Corporation and took the company public, raising $30 million in its initial public offering. Soon the business went global, with manufacturing facilities, partnerships and subsidiaries in Europe, Asia, Australia and Latin America. By 1992, Dell Computer had entered the Fortune 500 list of the world's largest companies, and at age 27, Michael Dell was the youngest CEO ever to lead one of the 500.
Dell Computer was also a pioneer of online commerce, selling computers over the burgeoning World Wide Web. When Dell filled its first orders in July 1996, many in the business community were still skeptical about online sales. Without promotion of any kind, the Dell web site immediately sold 30 to 50 computers a day. By the end of the decade, Dell's daily online sales were $18 million. Dell Computer had become the most profitable personal computer manufacturer in the world.
In 2004, Michael Dell stepped down as Chief Executive Officer of Dell Inc., while continuing to serve as Chairman of the Board. By the time he turned 40, the financial press estimated his net worth at close to $20 billion; in 2005 Forbes magazine identified him as the fourth richest man in the United States.
The University of Texas had already established the Dell Children's Medical Center when, in 2006, the university announced a $50 million matching grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to build three new facilities at the university. The Dell Pediatric Health Research Institute in Austin will be the nation's leading center for children's health and biomedical research. The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living addresses environmental factors that affect childhood development, particularly childhood obesity and related disorders, including Type 2 diabetes. Dell Computer Science Hall will house the university's computer science department, with the aim of creating the country's leading institution for the development of advanced applications for science and industry.
The panic that gripped financial markets at the end of the year, was followed by a historic recession that hit all manufacturers hard. As the economy recovered, consumers spent more of their dollars on smart phones and tablet computers than on conventional desktop and laptop computers. In 2012, PC sales fell for the first time in a decade and sales of tablet computers approached those of laptops. Dell felt the squeeze, along with industry giants Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft.
After nearly 25 years as a publicly traded company, Michael Dell decided to take Dell, Inc. private again, in a $24.4 billion leveraged buyout. Among other participants, Microsoft lent a reported $2 billion to the new owners, which include the investment firm Silver Lake. Michael Dell retains a 16 percent stake in the company, and remains at the helm as CEO.