Michael Dell begins his new book with the story of a mean meat loaf dinner with a man who turns out to be one of his biggest business enemies.
The year was 2013, and Dell had convinced the PC maker’s board, started in his college dorm room in Texas, to take the publicly held company private. He decided it was time to reset the business and make new investments for Dell Inc., but his plan would only work without being scrutinized — and judged — by financial analysts and shareholders.
However, it was a challenge to convince their board of directors that Dell Inc. Taking it privately was the best move for the company, the major battle ended in a “nine-month drama” with active investor Carl Icahn, who argued that Dell was undercutting. As shareholders they pushed for a higher bid price. Ikan’s fight for control of the company was not successful., although he made money from his play for Dell Inc. And the story of what happened behind the scenes is the backdrop against which Dell builds his new book, Which was published this month by Portfolio/Penguin.
He says he hopes the conclusion for readers is that they shouldn’t let fear stop them from working on something they’re passionate about.
“I want people to have a real understanding for the importance of taking risks — and not feel like you’ve got to follow every rule,” Dale, 56, says in an interview for Nerdshala..
“I have a strong belief that many people do not realize their full potential because they are too afraid to fail and too afraid to make mistakes,” he tells me. “There are a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns. In the first few years of the business [we] Could have failed at least 10 times, with all kinds of things going on. But it’s the reality, and that’s how I think great businesses are made.”
What do we learn about Dale from his book? Some things, starting with the fact that he’s a serious tech geek, took apart his Apple II as a 14-year-old when he unboxed it, out of desire to see how the machine worked. .
And we learn how serious a risk-taker he is, running a computer company from his college dorm bedroom (packed to the ceiling with parts and inventory) and driving around Texas to buy parts and machines. With barely enough cash flow to keep the resell going.
We also learn that he has a great sense of humour, which brings me back to the story of Bread of Meat. Heeding his parents’ advice – play nice but win – he decides to call Icahn while moving to New York in the midst of their shareholder fight. Dell says he wanted to meet his nemesis face-to-face so he could hear firsthand what Icahn plans to do with the company if his takeover bid is successful. Icahn, he writes, was shocked by his call, but invited him over for dinner, after warning him that his wife was “just a terrible cook.”
Dale writes that he heard the story of Icahn’s life and business deals; He then gives readers this summary: “I cut my meat and ate a little. Carl wasn’t distant about his wife’s cooking. And I wasn’t far in my estimation of her as a human being.”
While the Ikan fight is the thread to which he returns throughout the book, Dell offers insight into how he built his PC business from scratch, which includes traveling to Asia to cut deals with suppliers. So that it can keep its prices below IBM’s expensive PCs. Time. He talks about expanding the business and making it public. As customers move away from desktops, he has been clear about being behind the PC market in designing and selling laptops.
And he shares stories about his friendship with Steve Jobs and tells howFor distribution on Dell’s lower-priced but increasingly sold Intel-based PCs as Apple was months away from bankruptcy. Jobs’ pitch: As with Microsoft’s Windows OS, install Mac OS on every Dell PC, and leave it up to customers to decide which software to use. Hitch: Jobs wanted a cut for every PC sold. Dell acknowledged that the deal was a moment in tech history that could have happened.
“It could have changed the trajectory for Windows and Mac OS on PC,” Dell says. “But apparently, they went in a different direction.”
We also talked about the future of work and the tech industry in a post-pandemic world. Dale says the rules are still being written, but he’s sure there will be no return to the old normal.
“We’ve got this glimpse of the future, and I don’t think we’re going to go back to the way it was,” Dale says. “We’ve all figured out that work is something that we do, it’s not a place. There may be places where we gather to collaborate or be together individually, because we love that conversation and social connection, but hybrid work is here to stay.”
Hear our full conversation in the video above.
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