Michael Dell - The Man Behind DELL



Themes: Corporate Social Responsibility
Period : 1984-2001
Organization : Dell Computers
Pub Date : 2002
Countries : USA
Industry : Computers

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Case Code : LDEN002
Case Length : 10 Pages
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Michael Dell - The Man Behind DELL | Case Study

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Leading Dell into the Future

Though Michael had a huge fan following amongst business entrepreneurs and industry observers, he had a fair amount of critics as well. Many interviewers found Michael to be an extremely private person who, unlike many famous business leaders, never spoke much about his private life nor his daily and monthly routines. Analysts commented that this prevented people from understanding and learning from his leadership skills.

More importantly, Michael was criticized for being a major reason for the lack of innovation in the PC industry. This was because the R&D budgets of all major PC makers had fallen as they raced to keep up with DELL. Michael was thus criticized for making the whole business of PC manufacturing a 'cost game,' and killing innovation. In the early 1990s, Michael launched a price war in the PC industry, forcing rival companies such as Compaq and IBM to develop strategies for lowering costs. In 2000, he launched another round of price wars. As a result, DELL's market share went up by four points and Compaq lost its position as the world's largest provider of PCs.

Some analysts went to the extent of claiming that Michael was never an innovator, but was only a businessman who was good at identifying innovative business models and executing them to perfection. Michael naturally looked at the situation from another point of view. He argued that his company had succeeded in producing cheap computers for buyers and earning huge returns for shareholders.

Michael's 'direct model' had been criticized from the very beginning. When Michael entered foreign markets with the same model, critics said that it would not work in those markets because of certain cultural differences. Though Michael was warned that he would fail badly, he believed that customers would set their own rules and that the direct model would work cross-culturally. Michael's assessment of the situation was correct. By the end of 2001, DELL earned most of its revenues from global markets (Refer Table IV for DELL's region-wise revenues for 2001-02).

Table IV
Quarterly Revenues - Region-Wise

Quarterly revenue by region as percentages of consolidated net revenue

 Q4 FY02

 Q3 FY02

 Q4 FY01





Europe/Middle East/Africa








Source: www.dell.com

Michael's supporters claimed his visionary leadership had not only maintained but also accelerated DELL's growth in spite of the global IT industry slowdown in the early 2000s. When PC shipments were coming down all over the world, DELL and IBM were the only vendors to record positive growth. DELL's growth rate even exceeded that of IBM (Refer Table V to compare market shares and growth shares). According to a study conducted by Gartner, leading IT research concern DELL was the market leader worldwide with a market share of 13.3% in 2001. Worldwide, Compaq's market share was only 11.1%. In the US, DELL had a 24.5% market share of the PC market, much more than Compaq's 12.5%.

Table V
Worldwide Server Unit Shipment Estimates for 2001






Market Share (%)


Market Share (%)





































Total Market






Source: Gartner Dataquest (January 2002).

Michael said that he would stick to his three golden rules for business, regardless of the downturn in the PC industry, namely, 'disdain inventory,' 'always listen to the customer' and 'never sell indirect.' Will these principles continue to provide DELL with a competitive edge in the PC industry? Only time will tell.