Dell Inc. is one of the largest technological corporations in the world and we wouldn’t be surprised if right now you were reading this article from a Dell PC or laptop. Currently listed at No. 41 on the Fortune 500 list, this is actually a company that started out in a dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin. Michael Dell was a pre-med student there in his freshman year when he started his small business under the name of “PCs Limited”. His brilliant idea, the one that assured him his success, was to create a company that would sell its computers directly to customers, thus avoiding middlemen and markups. No other computer company of his time worked like that, so he was convinced that this would bring him a considerable success. And it did.
But where did he learn to seize opportunities? Who taught him how to find and explore new niches? Well, if we go back in time, to when he was just a kid, you will understand that Michael Dell was actually born to be a businessman. It is said that when he was only eight years old, he applied to obtain a high school equivalency diploma in order to be able to start business as soon as possible. As a young teenager he took part-time jobs and invested the money he earned in precious metals and stock. He was pretty familiar to the stock market, because his mother was a stockbroker.
Both his parents had successful careers (his father was an orthodontist) and Michael learned at an early age how to make and invest money. At age 12 he took a job at a Chinese restaurant (he washed dishes) with the purpose of raising money for his stamp collection. In high school (Memorial High School in Houston) he sold subscriptions to the Houston Post during the summer and he soon noticed (after making some a few cold calls) that those who were more likely to buy subscriptions were either newlyweds or people who had recently moved into a new home. So what he did was to collect names from mortgage and marriage applications and then contact those people to sell them subscriptions. His strategy paid off and that year he earned $18,000, more than the annual income of his economics and history teacher!
At age 15, Michael got his first personal computer, an Apple II, which he bought for the sole purpose of disassembling it and understanding how it worked. He soon became fascinated by these machines. So what could he get if he combined his innate talent for business with his newfound fascination with computers? Today the answer is clear: Dell Inc., an incredibly successful company that has brought him billions of dollars over the years. Dell is currently the 44th richest man on the planet, with an estimated net worth of $14.6 billion dollars.
But before reaching this peak, Michael’s parents used to think of him as a talented and bright young man who could make a very successful doctor one day. So they encouraged their son to go to premed college and follow the career they believed was best for him. Michael did go to college, but he continued to follow his passion for computers and in January 1984, at age 19, he registered his computer company, “PCs Limited”. From his dorm room, he sold IBM PC-compatible computers which he built to his customers’ requirements from stock components. He believed that by selling directly to customers, he could better understand the specific needs of each of his clients and then address them in a more personal manner. This simple idea ensured him the great success that he still enjoys today.
As his dorm-room business was flourishing, Dell decided to quit school and focus on his new company. His parents were not exactly thrilled about his decision, so Michel promised them that if the business wouldn’t bring in a satisfactory amount of money during the summer, he would return to college and finish his studies. Fortunately for him, the company grossed millions of dollars in it first year of trading. Of course, he never returned to college for his sophomore year. His opinion on the matter: “You don’t have to be genius or a visionary or even a college graduate to be successful. You just need a framework and a dream”.
Later his company was renamed to “Dell Computer Corporation” and by 1992, Michael became known as the youngest CEO to make it on Fortune magazine’s list of top 500 corporations. After expanding his product line to include printers, televisions and more, his company was once again renamed to “Dell Inc.”. By 2000, Michael Dell was already a billionaire and the following year his company surpassed Compaq Computer, thus becoming the largest PC manufacturer in the world. His soon became one of the most successful businesses in the world, leaving behind titans like General Electric and Wal-Mart. Michael’s epic ascent even became the subject of a best seller, called “Direct from Dell: Strategies That Revolutionized the Industry”, written by Michael himself in collaboration with Catherine Fredman. The book was about Dell’s early life, about his company, its growth and the lessons he had learnt on the way.
Back in 1989, the young Jewish-Texan businessman married a lovely young woman, named Susan. Before this, he had been known as a very shy person, but those close to him say that his wife helped him overcome his shyness over the years. Together they have four children.
The four kids are not the only ones who benefit from the couple’s care. In 1999, Michel and Susan started the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, a private charity that has given hundreds of millions of dollars for different causes over the years. Dell’s personal comment on his early entry into philanthropy was: “A bunch of guys sitting around trying to decide what we want to have done with our money after we’re dead, that’s not a very good idea. Forget all that. We’re going to do this while we’re still here and get it right.” That’s an attitude that we sincerely admire!