Our interview with founder and CEO of Dell Technologies on his candid new autobiography Play Nice But Win
Global tech icon Michael Dell is not following Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson into space travel. In our interview on his new book Play Nice But Win the Dell Technologies CEO and chairman told Growth Faculty he has no plans to shoot for the moon nor buy a ticket to go.
But Michael Dell has 'moon-shot' goals for how he plays a part in the future of Earth. Dell Technologies’ priorities for the next decade include sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and addressing social problems. By 2030, Dell’s 'moon-shot' goals include:
· 100% recycled packaging and more than half of all product content made from renewable and recycled materials.
· 75% of electricity from renewable sources (100% by 2040).
· 50% of its global workforce and 40% of global people leaders will be women.
· All team members doing foundational learning on unconscious bias, racism, harassment, microaggression, and privilege.
Play Nice But Win is a rare fly-on-the-wall look inside one of the world’s leading IT companies. The title is what his parents Lorraine and Alex used to call to their sons as they ran out to play street ball with friends.
A curious start
The self-confessed nerd wasn’t a sporty boy. At 14 years old Michael says he was more interested in pulling his Apple II computer to pieces to see how it worked (he’d paid for it but his parents were furious). By 20, he’d begun PC’s Limited with $1000. At 26 his re-named company Dell was in the Fortune 500 with $US546 million in sales. In 2021 Dell Technologies had annual revenues of $US94billion.
Praise from the top
Michael Dell’s reputation as a tough but nice guy has stood him in good stead. More than a dozen global business leaders put forward glowing testimonials about Play Nice But Win, a more vulnerable autobiography than his less candid 1999 one Direct from Dell.
“Play Nice But Win is a story for entrepreneurs, leaders, and dreamers,” says Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.
“He reminds us that courage and conviction are the key to transformative change in any organisation,” writes Indra Nooyi, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and author of My Life in Full.
Founder of Bridgewater Associates and author of Principles: Life and Work Ray Dalio writes “Michael Dell takes you into the real world of building and transforming an empire.”
Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of The Code Breaker, says “Dell provides a wealth of business insights but also something more important: how curiosity and good values are essential to success both in life and in business.”
Challenges of a ‘zombie’
In Play Nice But Win Michael Dell describes the challenges leading up to taking his company public, then private, then public again.
It includes in detail an ongoing battle with his nemesis Carl Icahn, an activist investor who Dell describes in the book as being “like a zombie you can’t kill.”
Despite Icahn’s best efforts, Michael Dell won his fight to take his company back private in 2013. He announced to the world he now headed up “The world’s biggest start-up.”
Reimagining what is possible
Going private in 2013 gave Michael Dell back the ability to ramp up research and development.
“Suddenly the shackles really were broken,” he explains of no longer being watched by the stockmarket. “It was about reimagining the art of the possible.”
He said there was high excitement at the company, and despite some failures Dell was faster and more agile than it had ever been.
“Success is not a straight line. You have to have failure to succeed,” he says.
Digital transformation in all companies
Today Dell Technologies is poised to further capitalise on the rebound in infrastructure and PC spend, new cloud operating models driving ‘as-a-service’ growth and other digital transformation initiatives.
“The domain of technology is no longer in the IT department – the whole company is technology,” he says. “I’m talking about ALL companies.”
Internet of things
With his learning mindset Michael Dell says he finds 5G especially thrilling – from connecting people to connecting things (as in the internet-of-things IOT).
“It’s not about talking on the phone faster; it’s about making everything in the world intelligent and connected,” he says.
By 2030, he says 90% of humanity will be connected and 5G will be a ‘digital nervous system’.
“It isn’t just because I love technology – it’s because I love how technology is making the world better,” he says in Play Nice But Win. “Now, obviously, technology itself is kind of neutral. It can do good things and bad things, but as I see it, mostly there are good people who want to do good things.”
“Technology is like fire. It can warm us; it can light the way,” he says.
The Soul of Dell
Dell’s values statement was made for in-house use in 2002 but is published in Play Nice But Win. It’s called ‘The Soul of Dell’ and goes like this:
We believe in creating loyal customers by providing a superior experience at a great value.
The Dell Team
We believe our continued success lies in teamwork and the opportunity each team member has to learn, develop, and grow.
We believe in being direct in all we do.
Global Corporate Citizenship
We believe in participating responsibly in the global marketlace.
We have a passion for winning in everything we do.
If you'd like to increase your professional and personal development why not consider becoming a Leadership Pass Holder with Growth Faculty? Unlimited access to 40 live virtual masterclasses and Global Headliner virtual events - PLUS year-round leadership content at On Demand with videos, podcasts and book summaries. Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. Access $4350+ value for just $398 AUD. See who's up next.