The Idol Life

Michael Dell

As a college student, Michael Dell declared that he wanted to beat IBM. In 1983, he began conducting business out of his dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin, selling custom-made PCs and components. A year later, with $1,000 in startup capital, Dell officially set up his business and left school. "Being an entrepreneur wasn't on my mind," insists Dell. "What was on my mind was the opportunity I saw ahead, which was so compelling."

Blast From the Past
Want more insight from Michael Dell? Then click to our extensive Q&A, Dell On , that we ran in 1999.

He had no idea how big that opportunity really was. Dell Computer Corp. is now a $31.9 billion behemoth. Though Dell himself had "no idea the Internet would come along," his company now sells approximately $50 million worth of products on the Net daily, making it one of the world's largest Windows-based e-commerce sites. These days, Dell spends most of his time planning company strategy. "Strategy is the biggest point of impact I can have as the company is much, much larger-it has 40,000 employees," he says. "So my ability to make an impact on anything else is pretty small."

Unless you're talking about the September 11 terrorist attacks. Dell's company did its part, shipping more than 35,000 computer systems to affected customers in New York and Virginia. Because the company already knew the configurations of customers' machines, replacements were ready to go.

Dell says he feels as entrepreneurial now as when he started. "There are plenty of markets to discover," he says, "and each new venture requires tenacity and a willingness to take risks."

MICHAEL DELL
Entrepreneur: How do you define "entrepreneur"?
Michael Dell: Somebody who has a new idea or different idea and takes a risk and works hard to make it work.

Entrepreneur: Who is your idea of an entrepreneurial icon?
Dell: Sam Walton, who took a business and refined it with cost structure and logistics, and took it to levels nobody ever imagined. And Henry Ford. He designed a new business process and he created an industry-or at least revolutionized it.

Entrepreneur: How do you keep your entrepreneurial spirit alive?
Dell: There's always a new challenge, whether it's a new product line, a new customer, a new service, or some new milestone.

Entrepreneur: What was your dream when you started out?
Dell: My plan was to sell built-to-order computer systems directly to end users. I recognized there was a big opportunity there because of the inefficiencies of the indirect system.

Entrepreneur: What's your legacy?
Dell: Well, I don't plan to be remembered anytime soon. I'm 36 years old. But I hope they would think, this is a guy who built a company that created tremendous value for its customers, its employees and its shareholders. And perhaps, this is a guy who helped people realize the power of computing and the Internet. And then the last piece, which is something only a [few] people would know, that this is a guy who was a great dad and a great husband.

Related Books

Aliza Sherman is a web pioneer, e-entrepreneur and author of eight books, including

PowerTools for Women in Business.

Her work can be found at mediaegg.com.

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Idol Life.

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