- Michael Dell with Catherine Fredman, Direct From Dell: Strategies that Revolutionized an Industry, HarperBusiness, 1999, 236 pages.
A couple of weeks before
Direct from Dell
hit bookstores on March 1,
found itself in hot water with shareholders. The PC maker had been growing at a 50% clip for so long that shareholders had come to expect it. When Dell announced a mere 38% increase in annual revenue, some were so disappointed they dumped Dell. The company's stock price catapulted to about $80 from about $109. (Dell has since had a two-for-one stock split.)
By the end of the first week of this month, much appeared to have been forgiven, thanks to
and the U.S. economy. On March 4, Dell and IBM announced a deal in which Dell agreed to buy $16 billion in IBM equipment over the next seven years. The next day, a federal labor report showed that the economy wasn't heating up as fast as some predicted, so there was no reason for the
to raise interest rates anytime soon. As stock indexes rose to record highs on March 5, Dell rode the crest as the most-traded stock of the day.
Given that the price-to-earnings ratio for Dell's stock has been so high for some time, skeptics might assume
Direct from Dell
may be CEO Michael Dell's attempt to reassure jittery shareholders. But that's really not the case.
It is obvious that Dell, 34, wrote this book for budding entrepreneurs who want to be like Mike -- an icon of the high-tech world who has lived every geek's dream. It is an engaging and worthwhile account of how, starting 15 years ago as a college freshman with $1,000 in capital, Dell built an international powerhouse that reported $18 billion in sales for its last fiscal year. (Only
sells more PCs.)
With help from co-author Catherine Fredman (who also helped
Chairman Andrew Grove write his treatise
Only the Paranoid Survive
), Dell keeps the tone conversational but manages to be instructional. The book, divided into two parts, covers the history of Dell Computer and Dell's common-sense management philosophy.
To the book's credit, the main thing missing is a Gates-sized ego. (Dell doesn't seem to have one.) The book also delivers directly what it promises.
To its detriment, the book is so sunny that at times it seems unbelievable. Also, if you're expecting any significant insight into Dell the man, you'll be disappointed. The few personal stories in Dell's book don't reveal a whole lot about him -- except for his precocious brilliance.
In the one chapter Dell devotes to himself, he talks about how he defied the wishes of his parents, who wanted him to be a doctor, by spending most his time in his
University of Texas
dorm room upgrading PCs. After his freshman year, he dropped out of college to pursue his business -- PC's Limited -- full time.
The anecdotes Dell does offer illustrate his mantra: eliminate unnecessary steps. He has built his company by cutting out the middleman and selling directly to computer users. Dell recognized the potential of the Internet early on, and his company says it is now selling $14 million worth of products a day in cyberspace.
While the book is mainly a management text, there are some nods to shareholders. In the last chapter, Dell answers the question, "So just how does a company like Dell sustain its growth?" Let him count the ways: "We created what we believe is the smartest way to buy and own a PC," he writes. Dell Computer continues to add new products like desktops, servers and workstations, services like leasing, and markets like China and South America, Dell expounds.
The book's bottom line: Expect hyper-growth. It's a hard image for Dell Computer, or any other company, to live up to every year, as Dell's recent stock hit showed. But there is much more in this book than Michael Dell's irrepressible optimism -- in the end, it
contagious -- to convince readers that Dell is primed for the Internet age.
Christi Dunn is a Houston-based financial writer. Previously, she was a high-tech business reporter for The Tribune in Phoenix, business editor of the Democrat-Gazette in Arkansas, and editor of the San Antonio Business Journal and the San Diego Business Journal. TheStreet.com has a revenue-sharing relationship with Amazon.com under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon.com purchases by customers directed there from TheStreet.com.