University News

Michael Dell shares keys to entrepreneurial success

Industry leader addresses personal challenges, developments in information technology

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc., detailed his experience as an entrepreneur and discussed the future of information technology with students and faculty members Friday in Salomon 101.

Dell spoke extensively about innovation within the information technology industry and survival in a rapidly evolving market. Dell, famously quoted for his assertion that “technology is about enabling human potential,” said he believes more in “human plus machine” than “human versus machine.” The key to development lies in discovering ways to combine the creativity and intelligence of humans with the mechanical abilities of computers, he said.

One student asked Dell whether the technology industry has room for another giant corporation, considering the dominance of companies like Dell, Google and Apple. Dell pointed to the emergence of relatively new companies such as Alibaba and Facebook as an indication that there is always space.

These big companies typically do not comprise more than 1 percent of the industry’s total value, Dell said. “You are going to see all kinds of new companies, and you will see companies going away. … It’s a change or die business,” he said. “You’ve got to evolve.”

This constant evolution is necessary for survival in a rapidly advancing industry, Dell said. Of the 1.8 billion personal computers and similar devices in the world, about 600 million of them are over four years old, he added.

In order to entice consumers to replace their old devices, Dell must create a machine that is significantly improved from the device five years ago. “How do we grow faster than the industry?” remains a  central focus of the business, Dell said. 

Dell founded his company from his freshman dorm room at the University of Texas. Back in high school, while his friends were interested in modifying their cars, Dell was more fascinated by microprocessors and circuit boards and was instead “souping up computers.”

Much to the dismay of his parents, Dell dropped out of college after his first year to focus on his business. “To them, higher education was an absolute must. How could you possibly compete in a world and do well without the skills and opportunities?” he said. At the age of 27, Dell became the youngest CEO ever on the Fortune 500 list.

When asked by a student about the greatest adversity he faced as an entrepreneur, Dell described the challenges of attracting talent to help grow his business. “I started out when I was 19 and didn’t really have any capital, so the people who joined me were mercenaries,” he said, adding that the risks of joining his startup at the time were far greater than the potential rewards. “It didn’t look like it was going to be a $16 billion global company. It looked like a 19-year-old kid without knowledge.”

But these adversities were crucial in the long-term development of the business, Dell said, adding that fearlessness and curiosity are two major keys to entrepreneurial success.

“You don’t actually learn anything while you’re succeeding,” he said. “You learn a lot more when you fail. What you don’t want to do is have the same failure over and over again.”

The lecture was co-sponsored by the Watson Institute, Computing and Information Services and the Department of Computer Science as part of as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series: Leadership in Technology.

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