Julie Tucker
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Michael Dell: Computer revolution

American billionaire businessman Michael Dell has become the 39th richest person in the world – after leading the computer revolution from his university dorm room. The entrepreneur and philanthropist is worth an estimated $50.4 billion today.

The 58-year-old founder, CEO and chairman of computer giant Dell had been interested in technology since the age of seven. He put together his first business package while a teenage student at the University of Texas, selling upgrade kits for personal computers.

Today, he heads one of the world’s leading tech companies, which has 157,000 employees across 90 locations, after starting out (in his own words) with a workforce consisting of “three guys with screwdrivers” at a 6ft desk.

Early life

Born in Houston, Texas, in February 1965, to orthodontist Alexander and stockbroker Lorraine Dell, he attended Herod Elementary School, where he already had ambitions to become an entrepreneur. He bought his first calculator at seven to see how it worked.

In his early teens, he took a part-time job and invested his wages in stocks and precious metals. At 15, he bought his first computer, an Apple II, but rather than using it, he took it to pieces to find out how it worked. He attended Memorial High School in Houston, followed by the University of Texas.

In his spare time, he honed his skills in sifting through data to find new subscription customers for the Houston Post newspaper. He was so successful, he earned $18,000 in one year.

Business growth

While still a university freshman, he started his small business selling PC upgrade kits from Room 2713 at the Dobie Centre residential building. It quickly expanded into a profitable company, particularly because he didn’t have the overheads of a retail store.

After making a gross profit of almost $200,000 in his first 12 months, Dell dropped out of university when he was 19, recognising the benefits of selling PCs directly to customers, without the expense of having a shop.

In January 1984, he registered his company as “PCs Limited” and worked from a condominium, with an initial outlay of only $1,000. He had three employees, who upgraded PCs and produced add-on components and upgrade kits. The company then employed order-takers and more staff to fulfil them. By May 1984, the business had already made $80,000.

Dell renamed his business “Dell Computer Corporation” and due to the increased demand, he needed to relocate to a business centre in North Austin after less than five months. The company’s growth was staggering by anyone’s standards – by the end of the first year, Dell had sold $6 million of stock!

Global leader

In 1992, at the age of 27, Dell became the youngest CEO of any company ranked in the top 500 global corporations, according to Fortune magazine. In 1996, he began selling computers over the Web. This coincided with Dell launching its first servers.

His breakthrough idea to completely bypass the middleman and sell custom-built PCs directly to consumers paid dividends. He also established a strong technical support and service programme. His strategy was a huge success, both in the United States and overseas.

Embracing the Internet as a selling tool early on; by the year 2000, sales had rocketed to more than $25 billion. Dell Inc reported around $1 million in sales per day from dell.com in the first quarter of 2001. The company grabbed a global market share of 12.8%, overtaking Compaq to become the world’s largest PC manufacturer.

Already a billionaire, Dell had offices in 34 countries, with more than 35,000 employees. He wrote his compelling story in the best-selling book, Direct from Dell: Strategies That Revolutionised the Industry. He lives and works by his ethos: “There’s always an opportunity to make a difference.”

In October 2015, Dell Inc announced it was to acquire EMC Corporation – the leading software and storage company. In a deal valued at $67 billion, it was described as the “highest-valued tech acquisition in history”. The deal was finalised on 7th September 2016.

Dell himself is known as an intensely private man, but is a renowned philanthropist, setting up the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation with his wife in 1999. The charity has donated millions to worthy causes all over the world, such as tsunami victims in Asia. He once said he would rather decide who needed the money now, while he was still alive, instead of leaving it to someone else to decide after he had gone.

He has served on the executive committee of the International Business Council, the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum and the US President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

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