Susan Cain: Introvert

18 November, 2014

Susan Cain took the world by [quiet] storm at the start of 2012, with the publication of her her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. It won many plaudits and quickly became (and remains in autumn 2014) an international best-seller. In it are some gems that can transform the world of managerial and professional work radically.

Susan Cain

Brief Biography

Susan Cain (formerly Devenyi) was born in New York, in 1968 and grew up loving reading.  So it seems little surprise that she took a degree in English at Princeton. She followed this with Harvard Law School, where she graduated with a doctoral degree in 1993. This led her to practise corporate law on Wall Street in the firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, representing blue chip corporations.

She put her commercial experience to use in co-founding the Downing Street Group, a strategic research and consulting firm, and founding The Negotiation Company. In the latter, she was making good use not only of her experience as a practising attorney, but also of having studied negotiation intensively while at Harvard Law School, with Roger Fisher, author of the seminal book on the subject, Getting to Yes.

But she wanted (needed?) a quieter life, so took seven years to write and research her best-selling book. Now, ironically, she has become a major public figure, much in demand as a speaker (her TED talk, which you can watch below, is one of their most watched ever with approaching 10 million views).

More recently, she has also established ‘The Quiet Revolution’. In her 2014 TED talk (not yet available online) she announced three objectives:

  1. Transforming office architecture to make offices once again a place where extroverts can flourish and where everyone can gain some solitude and quiet thinking time (‘hurrah!’ he says from his quiet office).
  2. Helping companies train the next generation of quiet leaders. A lot of her book is about the strengths of introverts and the power of quiet reflection to deliver better leadership.
  3. Empowering quiet children. Creating the tools that will allow schools to give introverted children the same opportunities to thrive as extroverts.

What is Introversion?

Introverts are not necessarily shy. Cain describes shyness as: ‘the fear of social disapproval or humiliation’. Introversion, on the other hand, is a preference for quiet, low stimulation environments. Introverts like to have time to themselves, to be with their thoughts.

Compare introverts with the opposite end of the scale: extroverts. Extroverts crave stimulation; especially from social situations. Note, however, that neither you nor I are either an introvert or an extrovert. We all lie somewhere on the scale from a arbitrary archetype of introversion to an equivalent extreme of extroversion. And, in the middle, lie ambiverts. These are people who are equally comfortable in stimulating social environments and in quiet private spaces.

Here is Cain’s description of the two types:

‘Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.’

Cain describes introverts living in a world that puts a premium on extroversion as being like ‘second class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent’.

Introverts are compelled to spend a lot of their time in ways that they would prefer to avoid, and therefore find it hard to be at their most creative and productive.

Creativity and Solitude

Cain’s research has led her to conclude that most creative people are introverts. The short video, below Cain’s TED talk at the foot of this blog, shows just how true this is of author, John Irving. His description of himself in the first half is clearly one of an introvert and has great similarities with Cain’s description of herself at a young age.

She goes further. Solitude, she asserts, is vital for the creative process. At the end of her TED talk, whilst acknowledging the value of collaboration, she says: ‘Let’s stop the madness of constant group work.’

In the book, she cites studies that show that performance diminishes as group size increases: bigger groups generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to smaller groups. She quotes organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham as saying that  ‘evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups.’  Her conclusion is stark:

‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’

Transforming Office Architecture

This extends to the way we organise offices. I recall hating open plan offices, and it seems I am far from alone. Research in many industries all points in the same direction. Open-plan offices reduce productivity,  impair memory, and increase staff turnover. Ironically, they diminish the quality of communication, decreasing motivation, increasing hostility and stress, and leading to more sickness and absence.

What is the solution if you are stuck in an open plan office? Mine has always been to seek refuge when I need to think: in meeting rooms, in foyers (ironically – in fact they tend to be fairly isolating) and in coffee shops.


Susan Cain setting out a summary of quiet in an astonishing TED talk in 2012.

And here is author John Irving speaking of himself in very similar terms.


Jeff Bezos: Deliberate Billionaire

11 November, 2014

Is it possible to think yourself rich?

Is it possible to define a hugely successful business through careful consideration?

I think the answer is yes, and the evidence is Jeff Bezos.

Jeff Bezos

Brief Biography

Jeff Bezos was born in 1964 and grew up in New Mexico and on his grandparents’ ranch in Texas. From an early age, he enjoyed tinkering and building engineering and science projects in his parents’ and grand-parents’ garages. After graduating in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University, he started a rapid rise through the corporate world, moving from a New York start-up, Fitel, to Bankers Trust, where he became its youngest vice president. He then went to a Wall Street firm called DE Shaw & Co, where someone said of him: ‘he is going to make someone a lot of money one day’.

I don’t know how much he made them, but it was whilst he was there that he had the inspiration that would lead him to found Amazon.com. Amazon led the internet revolution in the late 1990s, rapidly overtaking its major competitors, the big US retailers, in turnover. It rode out the storm of the 2000 dot com bubble bursting, and went on to where it is now, taking on just about any big interests – most notably at the moment, the big publishers (about which both I and my publishers have a vested interest and I, for one, as an author and a reader, have complex and mixed views).

But Amazon is no longer just a book seller: it sells anything anyone wants to sell. It also manufactures handheld devices as part of its revolution in eBook selling, and has recently launched its first mobile phone. Bezos himself is now worth over $30 billion and uses his money to pursue his passion for space exploration, his belief in the long term future of the planet and, recently, in acquiring the Washington Post newspaper (2013).

Bezos and Business Strategy

All of the above is well-documented (indeed more fully documented) elsewhere. So why put Bezos into the Management Pocketblog? I think there is one really important lesson I want to draw from the often told foundation story of Amazon, which can be a vital lesson for managers everywhere. It comes in three parts:

1. Openness and Perception

We all come across interesting facts and curious statistics every day. It sometimes seems that this is what the internet is for (if it is not for cat photos or shopping at Amazon, that is). The difference with Bezos is that he took a statistic that millions were aware of and thought about it: In 1992, the internet was growing at 2,300 per cent per year. No matter how small the base was, this meant a huge potential and he saw it. And he also saw that this meant a potential for successful online commerce.

2. Deliberate Analysis

Bezos didn’t just go for what he knew, for what he liked, or for what seemed easy. He made a long list of every category he could sell and whittled it down to find the category with the greatest potential to make a breakthrough in online retail. Books had a lot going for them, he reasoned:

  • A huge inventory of titles – that traditional retailers could not offer but he could
  • No single (or few in number) dominant retailer
  • Easy to transport by post

He then selected his base of operations a long way from where he was living (New York) or his family (Texas and New Mexico) because it was right for the business. Seattle offered:

  • The right workforce of skilled software engineers
  • The right taxation regime
  • The proximity of a major book wholesaler

3. Constant Innovation, Development and Striving

Amazon has never rested and the driving force for that has been Bezos. It has innovated in:

  • Customer engagement
  • Retail software
  • Synergistic hardware development

Bezos Quote

What could you achieve with a fraction of Bezos’:

  1. Openness and perception?
  2. Deliberate analysis?
  3. Innovation, development and striving?

Henry Mintzberg 2: Management Thinker

4 November, 2014

This is our 250th weekly Management Pocketblog.
We’re looking forward to the next 250!

In last week’s blog, we started our exploration of Henry Mintzberg, Gadfly Generalist. In this second blog, I want to examine two other aspects of his work: the way organisations are structured, and how they think strategically. But first, I feel the need to add in, gratuitously, another of Mintzberg’s more memorable quotes.

Mintzberg Delayering

Mintzberg on The Structure of Organisations

Mintzberg has visited this topic twice: in his 1979 book, The Structuring of Organisations, and then again, in 1989, in Mintzberg on Management. His earlier work identified five archetypical organisational structures or types, which he later revised to six.

  • Entrepreneurial Organisations are small, informal, with loose allocation of roles, but frequently strong leadership from a single chief executive.
  • Machine Organisations are excellent at repetitive tasks like manufacturing, placing efficiency of process at their heart, and formalising everything.
  • Diversified Organisations create a central administrative function to serve a range of operating units that are more or less autonomous. The degree of autonomy seems to vary in cycles with the current cycle creating a high degree of centralisation. See the earlier article, Kenichi Ohmae: Irrational Strategy.
  • Professional Organisations might also be called knowldege organisations. They use the skills and knowledge of their highly trained workforce to deliver fairly standardised services.
  • Innovative Organisations are flexible, informal and multi-disciplinary, allowing them to adapt and innovate. Mintzberg saw these as increasingly succeeding over competitors in the future.
  • Missionary Organisations have a clear mission that provides the basis for strategic choices and the motivation for employees.

Mintzberg on Adhocracy

I am going to make more of this than it may strictly deserve, as it is just one of very many topics on which Mintzberg writes. But it is one that interests me, especially with the emergence in recent years of the concept of holacracy, which seems a natural successor.

The term was, I think, first coined by Warren Bennis and then taken up and popularised by Alvin Toffler in his book, Future Shock. An adhocracy is a way of governing an organisation, not through formal structures, but through informal networks in which individuals take on the roles that are needed at the time. Such organisations are fluid and undocumented and unstructured knowledge has a high value.

Mintzberg developed these ideas, advocating small scale, temporary organisations coming together within the larger whole, to deliver a project, or one product or service, or to serve one customer. He saw two models:

The Operational Adhocracy, which works on behalf of it clients, like service businesses such as consulting

The Administrative Adhocracy, which comes together to serve its parent organisation.

Both of these models are excellent at creating adaptability and reacting to changes in circumstance. Consequently, both are poor at strategy building, because members have little investment in the adhocracy’s long-term development.

Mintzberg on Organisational Strategy

Mintzberg has made several influential contributions to thinking about organisational strategy too. His most notable influence has been, like Ohmae, to advocate non-linear, creative thinking over formulaic, analysis-driven strategy development. Once again (see last week) Mintzberg’s HBR article on the subject is very widely read and, once again, the enterprising reader could find a copy notwithstanding HBR’s copyright if you chose to. His books on the subject include: Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning (1994), The Strategy Process (1996), Strategy Safari (1998), and Strategy Bites Back (2004). Many of these are in revised editions and remain valuable today.

He sees three major pitfalls in traditional strategy making and rejects any assertions that our volatile, uncertain times are anything special – try telling that to people in Stalingrad during the Second World War, he says. All people at all times have seen their world as complex and uncertain.

Mintzberg’s three pitfalls are:

  1. Assuming that we can predict discontinuities. We tend to assume, implicitly, that the future will flow from the past and that changes will arise from trends. This is a theme that Nassim Nicholas Taleb has recently made his own, with his best selling book, The Black Swan.
  2. Planners are often detached, in the ivory planning towers, from daily realities. They are focused on the hard data and its analysis and miss out on the soft information that would alert them to big shifts. This says that operational managers need to be highly engaged in any strategic work.
  3. A belief that formal strategy development can follow a linear process. Instead, he argues, creative, divergent thinking is needed, which can make links outside of the logic-chain, subverting established categories and dogmas.

So, to end this exploration of Mintzberg’s thinking, one last, telling quote.

‘The real challenge in creating strategy lies in detecting the subtle discontinuities that may undermine a business in the future. And for that there is no technique, no program, just a sharp mind in touch with the situation.’


Pocketbooks you might enjoy

I am a little loath to include a book on the process and tools of strategy, but it is a good book and I have included it alongside others on creative thinking!


Henry Mintzberg: Gadfly Generalist

28 October, 2014

Henry Mintzberg is one of today’s great management thinkers, whose work is characterised by breadth, rigour, and iconoclasm. His work has so much breadth and depth that I have decided it merits two blogs, rather than one.

In this first blog, we’ll look at Mintzberg the man, and his earliest work on the nature of managerial work. In the second blog, we will look at two further big themes in his professional work: how organisations are structured, and how they create strategy.

Henry Mintzberg

Brief Biography

Henry Mintzberg was born in Montreal in 1939 and graduated from McGill University in Mechanical Engineering in 1961. He then went to work for the Canadian National Railways for two years in Operational Research, but quickly gravitated to an academic career. He won his doctorate from the MIT Sloane School of Management in 1968, and returned to McGill, where he is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies. For much of the time, he has split his teaching and research time between there and INSEAD, the international graduate business school, based in Fontainebleau, in France.

He is a prolific writer with 16 books and over 150 articles and monographs to his name. Most recently, he has focused on a more politically oriented critique of western society and business, taking the extremes of capitalist thinking to task, much as the west took the extremes of communist thinking to task in the 1980s. His pamphlet, Rebalancing Society, is available from his website.

Mintzberg is notable as a gadfly, critic and iconoclast who is outspoken on many issues and highly quotable in the way he speaks and writes (an example is below). But he is thoughtful and rigorous too: when he disagrees with another academic or commentator, he rarely engages in an attack, but rather he gathers his data carefully, before mounting a strong – often devastating – counter-argument.

Mintzberg MonkeyMintzberg on Managerial Work

Mintzberg’s first book was The Nature of Managerial Work, published in 1973. It was followed by one of the all time most popular Harvard Business Review articles, whose tile described Mintzberg’s thesis well: The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact (this is one of many classic HBR articles, that, while protected by copyright, the enterprising blog reader can probably track down).

In his earliest academic work, Mintzberg set out to discover what managers actually do with their time: not what they should do, nor what they say they do. His managers went all the way up their organisations to CEOs. His results put the lie to grand theories of management behaviours – most notably Peter Drucker‘s metaphor of manager as orchestra conductor. Instead, what he found were managers constantly juggling interruptions and distractions, spending very little time on any one topic. Their big projects are delegated and all they can do is spend a few minutes here and there, engaging with one of them, before moving onto something else.

Most managers I know would, firstly, recognise this description and, secondly, fear that this is dysfunctional – not at all what they should be doing. Mintzberg gives them the confidence that they are not alone. He also found that much of what managers did in the early 1970s was ‘old fashioned’ and I suspect it still is: a lot of their time is spent dealing with people, talking, chatting, even gossiping. This gathering of ‘soft’ information is the basis of their decision making as much as or even more than the formal documenting, analysis and careful consideration that theory would prescribe.

Out of all of his observations, Mintzberg catalogued ten managerial roles, which he grouped into three clusters.

Interpersonal Roles

  • The Figurehead, whose role is to represent the team, division or organisation, formally. Often a merely symbolic role, but more frequently, a political one.
  • The Leader, whose role is to co-ordinate,unify, and motivate the team.
  • The Liaiser, whose role is to build up and maintain a network of contacts within and beyond their organisation.

Informational Roles

  • The Monitor, whose role is to gather and evaluate information from all sources.
  • The Disseminator, whose role is to transmit the information across the organisation and to their team members.
  • The Spokesperson, whose role is to give information to the outside world, from within the organisation.

Decision-making Roles

  • The Entrepreneur, whose role is to design, initiate, and propagate change within the organisation.
  • The Disturbance Handler, whose role is to deal with the unexpected.
  • The Resource Allocator,whose role is to make decisions about how the organisation’s resources can best be deployed.
  • The Negotiator,  whose role is negotiate for resources internally and externally.

The first thing that strikes me is that there is little here about getting things done – the job of a manager is to manage: not to do. The second thing is how much of this is reactive to events – very little of this smacks of careful consideration and planning. The risk here is one of superficiality and quick fixes, so a manager must guard against these, by learning to be adept at spotting what is important from among the vast amount of distracting dross.

Finally, I cannot help worrying about ‘the magic number trap’. Here we see a perfect ten roles. I do hope the younger Mintzberg – now the rigorous gadfly – did not succumb to the temptation to simplify in search of neatness. What roles may he have missed, or conflated?

Next week… Part 2: Henry Mintzberg: Management Thinker

If general management is your thing, you may like…


Kathryn Harrigan: Decline and Join

21 October, 2014

There are two main themes in the research and writing of strategic management professor, Kathryn Rudie Harrigan. First is businesses in decline and how mature businesses can remain profitable in contracting markets. The second is around strategies for businesses joining together in more or less formal and complete ways from full mergers and acquisitions at one end of the scale through joint ventures, to strategic alliances. These two areas of interest offer much to learn from and, if your business interests lie in one of these directions, you can be assured of rigour and subtlety from her: in the past, she has lambasted quick-fix easy solution business books and models, describing her work as being for thoughtful managers.

Kathryn Rudie Harrigan

Brief Biography

Kathryn Harrigan was born in 1951 and grew up in Minnesota. Her initial training was in the theatre, taking a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts at Macalester College and starting a master’s degree in Fine Arts. Early in her career, her entrepreneurial inclinations led her to create a theatre company. In 1976 she gained an MBA from the University of Texas (Austin) and went on to study at Harvard, with Michael Porter, for a DBA.

After a spell as a junior faculty member at the University of Texas (Dallas), she moved to Columbia University in New York, where she is now Henry R. Kravis Professor of Business Leadership.

Declining Businesses

Harrigan’s first research at Harvard was into declining businesses and led to her first book, Strategies for Declining Businesses, published in 1980. She returned to this topic in her 1988 book, Managing Maturing Businesses: Restructuring Declining Industries and Revitalizing Troubled Operations, and then again in her last book to date*, Declining Demand, Divestiture, and Corporate Strategy, published in 2003.

Her core thesis is that decline is inevitable if a business fails to constantly renew and refresh itself. Growth is nice to have, managers should not underestimate the challenge and rewards of properly managing a business in a mature or even diminishing market. In her 1988 book, Managing Maturing Businesses, she sets out four strategic options:

  1. Divest quickly and be the first player to exit a declining market, maximising the price you can get for any assets, intellectual property and good will you can sell off.
  2. Shrink your business selectively, divesting the weakest parts and focusing on the most lucrative areas of business, leaving your competitors  to fight over the rest.
  3. Milk the business. Adopting the BCG metaphor of a ‘cash cow’, she offers the option of continuing to manage it as well as you can, as the market declines, to drain every last dollar of return from past investments.
  4. Be the ‘last iceman’ – serve the few customers who continue to want legacy products and make this a profitable premium niche.

Strategic Alliances

In Harrigan’s other work, she has focused on the variety of alliances that companies can make, which to select, and how to do it well. Her books on this topic started with 1983′s Strategies for Vertical Integration, and continued with Strategies for Joint Ventures (1985), Strategic Flexibility: A Management Guide for Changing Times (1985), Managing for Joint Venture Success (1986), Vertical Integration, Outsourcing, and Corporate Strategy (2003), Joint Ventures, Allliances, and Corporate Strategy (2003), and looks set to continue with future work*.

Her earlier work emphasised the dangers that vertical integration of the value chain (supply and distribution) hold by limiting a company’s strategic flexibility to rapidly adapt to market changes. She saw co-operation in the form of joint ventures and strategic alliances as the key to success in future changing world markets.

This is despite the fact that the concept of joint ventures goes back to antiquity and the maritime trading of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, and continued through the great mercantile revolutions of 16th century Europe. Harrigan defines a joint venture as ‘separate entities with two or more actively involved firms as sponsors’.

It is my sense that her predictions of the 1980s are coming true: that constellations of firms working in alliance will compete with one another, rather than individual corporations. This is clearly visible in the consumer electronics industry, where systematic outsourcing creates strategic flexibility, commercial efficiency, and the capability to take on vast projects.


* I believe she is working on a new book, Strategies for Synergies.
This  emphasises the intellectual debt she owes to Igor Ansoff.

 


Igor Ansoff: Strategic Management

14 October, 2014

Igor Ansoff was the pre-eminent thinker who codified the way we consider business strategy. Other strategic thinkers have since either followed him or reacted against him. His first major book, Corporate Strategy, laid the groundwork for the discipline and set the direction for Ansoff’s whole academic career.

Igor Ansoff

Brief Biography

Ansoff lived a long life, that encompassed three continents (if you include his conception in Japan). He was born to a Russian mother and US diplomat father in 1918, in Vladivostock, as Russia was becoming the Soviet Union. When the family returned to the United States, he was educated in New York, studying physics and mechanical engineering, before serving in the 1939-1945 war. On his return, he took a service scholarship and completed a PhD in applied mathematics at Brown University, in 1948.

His first job was at the Rand Corporation, where he used his mathematics to contribute to operations research and strategic management, but he became frustrated with the lack of application of his work and also by his inability to truly excel as a mathematician. Seeking a new direction, he moved to Lockheed, first as a long-range planner, then leading acquisitions and diversification, and finally, taking a senior management role, where he learned how to manage people. He was successful in leading a profitable division, but wanted something else from his life, so he deliberately left Lockheed and sought an academic role.

A series of academic appointments followed, first at Carnegie-Mellon University (from 1963), where he wrote his seminal book, Corporate Strategy, then to found the Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University (from 1969). Here, he published the paper: ‘The Concept of Strategic Management‘ that led people to refer to Ansoff as the ‘father of strategic management’. Finding the distractions of running a school not to his taste, Ansoff moved to Europe in 1975, to join the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management, in Brussels. Here, he wrote the book that was to address the need to incorporate strategic thinking into day-to-day implementation, Strategic Management, 1n 1979. He saw this as his most important work.

Ansoff’s final academic post was back in the US, when he joined the US International University in 1983. Here he wrote the follow up to Strategic Management in 1984: Implanting Strategic Management. He retired from academic life in 2000, becoming a distinguished emeritus professor, and died in 2002.

Ansoff’s Ideas

At the heart of Ansoff’s thinking was the idea that strategic planning could be approached in a rigorous way, using a variety of practical tools. Most notable of these tools is his 2×2 matrix, now best known as The Ansoff Matrix. This first appeared in a paper in 1957, while he was at Lockheed. The matrix offers a simple tool for assessing four growth strategies.

Ansoff Matrix

Ansoff introduced many new concepts, two of which have become management commonplaces. The first is the much over-used and often misunderstood concept of synergy: that by bringing together the right components and integrating them effectively, the final result is more valuable than the sum of its parts – ’2 + 2 = 5′ in Ansoff’s memorably simple explanation. The second is the concept of ‘gap analysis’. This is the idea of determining where you want to get to, understanding where you are, and then identifying what it will take to bridge the gap.

The problem that Ansoff found was that his focus on rationality and his extensive kit of strategic thinking and decision-making tools were leading managers into what he called ‘paralysis by analysis’ - another coinage that has become commonplace. This led him to focus his efforts on understanding why this was happening and how to overcome it. In so doing, he effectively became his own most ardent critic. This led him from Corporate Strategy to Strategic Management – an understanding of how people behaved strategically. This was quite a theoretical analysis, synthesising ideas from many fields. So his 1979 Implanting Corporate Management put the focus on practical ‘how-to-do-it’ techniques.

His later research sought to underpin many of his hypotheses with strong empirical evidence. Ansoff always stayed close to working business leaders and his students were able to conduct detailed research into what Ansoff called his ‘Strategic Success Hypothesis’.  This asserted that a business could optimise its returns by matching strategic activities to its changing environment, and by developing internal structures and capabilities to support its strategy. In this way, he anticipated the McKinsey 7S model, in much the same way as Ansoff anticipated a lot of our modern understanding of strategic management.

Pocketbooks you may enjoy include:

The Strategy Pocketbook

 

 


Michael Dell: Born to Sell

7 October, 2014

My apologies for the rhyming title, but it seems to me to be absolutely true: Michael Dell is the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur, who started selling stamps at 12, when his friends were swapping them; whose high school teacher was shocked to find, in an economics assignment, that Dell’s income really did exceed hers and that he had not made an arithmetical error; and who founded a fortune 500 company that enjoyed 80% annual growth for its first eight years, leaving him one of the richest people alive.

Short Biography

Michael Dell was born in Texas, in 1965, and was already a successful salesperson by the time he left school, having sold stamps to auction houses and newspaper subscriptions to newly weds. In his first year at The University of Texas, he founded PCs Limited, rebuilding and selling computers. A year later, in 1984, he dropped out of University to set up Dell Computer Corporation, on a shoestring, at the age of 19.
With little capital, Dell kept little stock and built computers to order. This has been a core plank of his business strategy and one of the main drivers for profitability. The business grew rapidly:

  • in 1988, trading revenue exceeded $250 million and the company was floated in an IPO valuing it at $30 million. It ended the year with a market capitalisation of over $80 million.
  • in 1992, the company entered the Fortune 500, and Dell was the youngest CEO ever of a Fortune 500 company
  • in 1994, Dell moved online, launching dell.com, starting online sales in 1996
  • In 1997, online revenues exceeded $3 million per day
  • This rose beyond $70 million per day in 2000, with annual revenue of $27 billion
  • In 1999, Dell and his wife established the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to offer philanthropic support to a variety of global causes
  • In 2003, the company diversified into managed networking services
  • In 2004, Dell stepped down as CEO, but stayed on as Chairman
  • in 2007, Dell returned to the role of CEO, at the request of the board
  • In 2013, Dell led a successful campaign to buy out shares from the market place and de-list the company, returning it into private hands under his own control. After many years of troubles caused by narrow margins and the decline of its core market – PCs – Dell wants to be able to invest for the future, without worrying about the effect of quarterly performance on share prices
  • In June 2014, Dell was named the United Nations Foundation’s first Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship

What we can learn from Michael Dell

Like all great entrepreneurs, we can see a gritty determination and ruthless commercial acumen in Dell. But there are more specific lessons that made the business great.

  1. Dell valued effective execution above all. His low inventory and rapid turnaround were not just a strategy, they became an art form. Delivery is as important to Dell as selling.
  2. Customer loyalty is key for Dell, and the problems his business ran into in the early years of the century following off-shoring their call centres (when ‘Dell hell’ became an internet meme), led him to spend over $100 million in 2006 to roll out new customer service processes.
  3. Rapid recognition of the potential offered by new technology – the internet – for profitably transforming his business, and new products – servers and networking – for defending volumes. Arguably, this is his intent in the leveraged buyout of 2013.
  4. Early on, Dell allowed himself to be persuaded to withdraw from seemingly fantastic deals to place his product with huge retailers like Walmart. This turnaround and its effects illustrate three things:
    1. the brilliance of his sales acumen to tie up huge deals with vast retailers,
    2. his wisdom in allowing himself to listen to counter arguments and publicly change his mind at last minute, despite the loss of face it must have involved
    3. the long-term success of this decision, in moving out of low margin supply to retailers and into high margin direct supply to customers

Michael Dell has recently said

‘I’ll care about Dell even after I’m dead. So this is a pretty personal process. And when you’re doing what you love and it’s working, you don’t get tired working what other people might consider long hours or crazy schedules.’

This, of course, is one of the things that allows a great entrepreneur to succeed.

Dell has recently done an interview with Inc.com: ‘Michael Dell: How I Became an Entrepreneur Again

 


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