Tuesday, May 3, 2011


One of my personal heroes and favorite corporate leaders is Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell, Inc.. With a net worth of about $15 billion at age 46, this Houston businessman is undeniably on of the most successful people on the planet.

How did Michael Dell get to where he is now? Partly, of course, through strong leadership qualities such as vision, passion, excitement, curiosity, and the ability to inspire other people. But when all is said and done, Dell’s greatest asset has been his courage—specifically, the courage to be different.

Dell started out doing things differently at a very early age. Blessed with an insatiable curiosity aboutinformation technology, he bought his first calculator at age seven and programmed his first teletype machine when he was in his early teens. When he got his first computer, an Apple II, Dell ignored the instruction manual and took it apart piece by piece to see exactly how it worked.

While attending high school in Houston, he made house calls, selling subscriptions to the Houston Post  during the summer. Anyone who has done this, or even made cold calls over the phone, knows the courage it takes to face repeated rejection.

But Dell was fired by an enthusiasm that overcame all this. With a keen eye for opportunities and market needs, always looking for something different that nobody else was doing, he observed that newlyweds and new homeowners were the ones who most often bought new subscriptions. Targeting this demographic group, he earned $18,000 his first year in high school, more than the annual income of most of his teachers.

In his early twenties, while doing pre-med studies at the University of Texas, Dell started an informal business upgrading computers. Thinking outside the box, he applied for and got a vendor’s license to bid on contracts for the State of Texas. Much to his competition’s dismay, he won most of the contracts for one simple reason: he was operating out of a single room instead of having to deal with the expensive overhead of a computer store. None of his competitors had thought of that before.

Dell’s experience with the State of Texas and the money he saved by not being saddled with an expensive store eventually led to his registering a new company called PCs Limited. Continuing with his bare-bones operating budget and working out of a condominium, the business sold between $50,000 and $80,000 in upgraded PCs,kits, and add-on components. This success eventually led to the founding of the Dell Computer Corporation in North Austin, which employed a few order takers and fulfillment people and, as Dell himself put it, a manufacturing staff consisting of “three guys with screwdrivers sitting at six-foot tables.” His total capitalization cost? A mere $1,000.

In 1992, at the age of 27, Dell became the youngest CEO to have his company ranked in Fortune magazine’s list of top 500 corporations. Four years later, in 1996, Dell started selling computers on the internet and was soon reporting more than $1 million in sales per day. In the first quarter of 2001, Dell Inc. reached a world market share of 12.8 percent, surpassing Compaq to become the largest PC maker in the world.

Dell not only had vision and passion; he also had the courage to take bold and unprecedented action. Throughout his career, Dell has been faced with naysayers both inside and outside his company, people who scoffed at him as a dreamer and dismissed his idea as foolish or unrealistic. Dell didn’t care. He knew he would succeed. Again and again at the decisive moment, he had the courage to be different.Many of his actions were so different and unexpected, they blew his competition out of the water.

If you’d like to read more about Dell’s unusual rise, I strongly suggest his book, Direct From Dell: Strategies That Revolutionized an Industry. It recounts not only his early life and the founding of his company but also the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned along the way.

Dell knew he couldn’t succeed without taking risks, and neither can you. So here are a few questions for you to ponder: Do you have the courage to be different? What are the assumptions in your industry? What’s missing? Who are your customers and what are their needs? What niches existthat aren’t being filled? What could you do that your competitors aren't doing? How can you reduce costs? What one small change could you make right now that could vastly shift your business for the better? What changes might even revolutionize your industry?

If you take a few minutes to ponder these questions, the answers can catapult you and your business to an entirely new level of success—especially if you have the courage to be different.

Most of this blog was taken from my book, The New Technology Paradigm: Transforming IT With Passion, Courage, and Collaboration. If you’d like to learn more about transforming your business, click on the following link to order a discounted copy of the book from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/New-Technology-Paradigm-Steve-Romeo/dp/0982831501/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1290026980&sr=8-1 

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