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Michael Dell

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

The earliest PCs had IBM's name on the outside but there was no IBM on the inside. And what I saw was that not only did it take an enormous amount of time for the components to get from the people who made them all the way to the customer, but it was a very inefficient and expensive process. So I would read about improvements in technology in Byte magazine, but then it would take a year or more before you could actually buy it. So I was kind of a frustrated consumer, thinking, "Hey, where is all this stuff that I keep reading about?" and kind of thought, "Well gee, what if you could sell directly to the end customer and do it way more efficiently with better service, the people who really knew about the product. Now, I had no idea this thing called the Internet would come along and make it real easy for people to buy things online and connect, but absolutely felt that over time more and more people would be knowledgeable enough to buy on the phone.
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Michael Dell

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

Michael Dell: The way this would work is, let's say you went to ComputerLand -- there used to be such things in the United States, around every street corner -- and you bought a computer and it didn't work. Well, you'd put it back in the car and you'd go there and (say) "Fix this thing," and you'd come back a week or so later and they'd give it to you. So our idea was that you'd call us on the phone and say, "Hey, our computer is not working," and we'd come the very next day and fix it. It turns out there were all sorts of third party companies that had field service networks -- companies like Xerox, for example, who had all these technicians all over the country who were kind of waiting for copiers to fail. So they had this fixed capacity. And so we could buy up that excess capacity at way less cost than we could put it in ourselves, and instantly have way better service. Actually, Xerox is the company we used for quite some time in that.
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Michael Dell

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

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.
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Michael Dell

Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc.

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."
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Joan Didion

National Book Award

Joan Didion: Vogue used to have a contest for college seniors called the Prix de Paris, and my mother had pointed it out to me when we were living in Colorado Springs during the war, and we were snowbound, and we were looking through Vogue. We had all these little entertainments, and she pointed it out to me as something I could win when I got old enough. So lo and behold, I entered it, and I did win it. So the prize at that time was a job.
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Joan Didion

National Book Award

Joan Didion: I just wanted to write a fast novel. You always have a vision of what kind of object a piece of fiction is going to be, or anything that you're making. In that case, it was going to exist in a white space. It was going to exist between the paragraphs. Some of the chapters are only three or four lines long in that book, and I found a way to speed it up. I had started it -- just because I didn't know how else to start it -- I started it with two or three characters (who) have short first-person statements, and then it goes into a "close third" for what appears to be the rest of the book, but as the book comes to an end and starts gaining momentum, you can pick up a lot of momentum by going back to this device from the beginning. This sounds so technical. You go back to that first person and shorter and shorter bursts, and it really gives you a lot of speed. So I was sort of thrilled with that.
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David Herbert Donald

Two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography

David Herbert Donald: My biography of Wolfe was something of a surprise to everybody, perhaps including myself. I had finished several Lincoln books, about aspects of Lincoln in the Civil War, and I thought to myself, I don't think I want to do that again, right now anyway, but what would I do? About that time, we decided we'd go on vacation in North Carolina. There's wonderful areas out there in the western mountains, and we enjoyed it immensely. And driving back from the mountains, we went through Asheville, and I thought, you know, we ought to stop there and see Thomas Wolfe's house, which I had seen once before, but my wife never had, and so we did. We went through that house. It was a very impressive old house in a sense, it was huge. It was, indeed, as Wolfe's father said, "a damned old barn." It was practically empty, all these little cubicles with a light hanging down by a cord in the middle of it, a narrow flat bed, maybe one bureau and a chair. That's all it was furnished with. People came to rent rooms there because of the mountain air, and Julia Wolfe made a living for the family by renting. And I thought to myself, "Isn't it odd that Thomas Wolfe, who writes the most luxuriant prose of any American, so full of description, so full of wonderful language, should emerge from this absolutely barren background?" And I told my wife, I said, "You know, somebody ought to do something about Thomas Wolfe," and she said, oh yes, I ought to, and we drove home.
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