Michael Dell’s (CEO Dell) management style and CIOs

Today’s article is the second in a series of articles (First was written on Steve Job’s – Apple CIO) analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders. It is interesting to note new technology leaders are remarkably similar in many ways. I’ll leave you to decide on their similarities.

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

Michael Dell started his empire from his bedroom with $1000. Let’s see what CIOs and general management can learn from this icon of modern business and technology. (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Constant analysis: Michael Dell (MD) – “There are a lot of things that go into creating success. I don’t like to do just the things I like to do. I like to do things that cause the company to succeed. I don’t spend a lot of time doing my favorite activities. What matters is our future plan of action. We are systematically moving to increase efficiencies, improve execution and transform the company. I constantly adjust my approach and way of doing things based on all the inputs and opportunities that I see.”

Successful businessman and leaders are constantly looking to improve their business. MD utilises this to maximum advantage. It is through constant analysis that Dell successfully started its own range of printers. From the early days, MD realised that a business MUST support itself from revenue generated and not through financial borrowing.

2. Family commitment: MD – “I think we make a priority to bring balance into our lives. To me, family is very important. So if you look at my schedule, one of the things I realized a long time ago is that there is a limit to how much productive work you can actually do in a given week. There’s also the happiness factor; if you want to do something for a long time and be really good at it, you’d better have a strategy that is sustainable and works within what’s going on in the rest of your life. For me that means that I’ve got to have time with my family; I’ve got to have time to exercise; I’ve got to have time to sleep; I’ve got to be able to take my kids to school.”

This is an aspect of life that I firmly believe in as well. Time cannot be turned around or replaced. It is very important that we spend time with spouses and spend time with our children. As they grow up we have to ensure that they become responsible and active citizens. A work/life balance is crucial and ensures that we work optimally.

3. Spotting opportunities: MD – “I do believe that you must find something you’re passionate about and follow your interests – not what others tell you to do.

We need to spot opportunities for improvement. It is not enough, however, just to spot them, the onus is to spot them and then to create an environment to leverage that opportunity and make it happen.

4. Business/IT Strategy: MD – “First of all, don’t start a business just because everybody else is doing it or it looks like it’s a way to make a lot of money. Start a business because you found something you really love doing and have a passion for. Start a business because you found something unique that you can do better than anyone else. And start a business because you really want to make a big contribution to society over a long period of time.”

When people enjoy their work, it is always more productive. Create an environment that encourages employees to deliver to their best capabilities. An environment that is not reliant on an individual’s contribution but where people work together, feel valued, are rewarded as a team and therefore can work towards a better future for the organisation.

5. Know your business and innovate: MD – “There are so many sectors of technology that are in different stages of development and maturity. If you want to be a part of that or create a masterfully successful company, that’s usually not done by replicating something which already exists. To create a real breakthrough, you have to do something which has never been done before or you have to do it in a way which is dramatically better than something that’s previously been done.”

The CIO and the entire IT department need to develop an innovative mindset. IT needs to help the business by understanding each department and then helping that department through innovative use of technology. That assists towards building relationships and reinforces the transformational capabilities of IT.

6. When the going gets tough, investment in people always pays: MD- “First, if you try to control things, that’s self-limiting. The easiest way to think about this is that if all the decisions inside an organization had to roll up to the center of the company or to one person, it’s a massive bottleneck. I believe in rules and having some order to things, but my natural proclivity is not to control everything myself. I am more inclined to provide frameworks and guidelines.”

One person alone cannot handle everything. The secret is to surround yourself with employees that are smarter than yourself. These smart people will challenge organisations and force them to think differently. I covered this, under mobility of management when I covered; can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part II. CIOs need to understand the importance of retaining and investing in people as one of the business’s most important assets is yet again confirmed by another business leader.

7. Success in general may be built on failure: MD -. “I would say a few things. First, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s how you learn, so I believe a lot in trio al and error and course corrections. Often companies are unwilling to admit when they’ve made a mistake. We tend to question things more in our business.                                                           

Businesses in general do not tolerate failure and that cascades down to the employees. Employees are encouraged to succeed at all costs. Yet, both at Apple and Dell, failure is accepted as a route to success. Dell’s venture into personal organisers (The Axiom) was not successful but its move into the printer market has been successful. The secret is to learn from your mistakes, put them behind you and move on.

8. Learning: MD – “Continuous learning is also important.”

All great leaders have made it a habit to constantly learn. MD visits the companies that impress him by paying them a visit to learn how to improve himself and Dell. Other leaders such as Bill Gates are very well read and read books to improve their knowledge. The knowledge of all great minds, past and current, is available. It is upon us to seek that knowledge.

The three principles (3C’s) for successful internet businesses.

Approximately 10 years ago, MD outlined three principles that internet businesses should adopt. Many of these have been adopted and enhanced and are reproduced for you to make your own conclusions.

1.        Content

“The first stage of content means providing compelling information. This is how we started our online operations in 1993, when we put our technical databases online for customers to access. It was a relatively simple start, but it showed us the tremendous interest from our customers. By content, we mean bringing information online. Anytime you have a form, a manual, or a document, put it online. This is the foundation of any Internet strategy. Once we brought information online, it became clear to us where the opportunities were in the transaction world: simple things like order status and commerce, and we have added more complex things over time. The key, again, is that it is experiential and you learn by doing.”

2.       Commerce

“The next stage is commerce, which should be thought of as all transactions, not just buying things over the web. In fact, our first activity in this area had nothing to do with purchasing. It was simply order status. Our ultimate goal is to deepen relationships with customers by providing added convenience, efficiency, and cost savings, and a wider array of services. The Internet creates an opportunity to move these key transactions online and drive transaction cost to almost zero.”

3.       Community

“The final stage is developing an online community. We are building two-way relationships over the web with both our customers and our suppliers. Establishing communities of suppliers and end users that share common interests. In summary, the Internet is changing the face of the entire economic and social structure of not only this country but the entire world, and governments have a great opportunity to embrace it. We are seeing a transition from a brick-and-mortar government to an online government. The advantages will include things like velocity, efficiency, and a better customer experience.”

It is appropriate to conclude this blog post with a quote from Michael Dell himself on his competitive strategies “speed to market; superior customer services; a fierce commitment to producing consistently high quality, custom-made computer systems that provide the highest performance and the latest relevant technology to our customers; and an early exploitation of the Internet.”


About mubbisherahmed
I am passionate about IT and its ability to deliver cost effective, value for money solutions that can enhance performance and in many cases provide competitive advantage by using a range of solutions and approaches in innovative ways.

6 Responses to Michael Dell’s (CEO Dell) management style and CIOs

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Michael Dell’s (CEO Dell) management style and CIOs « Engaged IT for the CIO -- Topsy.com

  2. Scott Clark says:

    I’m not disagreeing with any of this but as with any discussion of this type it assumes a generic CIO mold and that is not the case. The challenges each organization poses invokes a need for site specific style. The style required for an organization on good footing moving to the next level is not the style an organization back on its heels and behind the curve needs. In the latter you can forget worklife balance as you are on a burnout ride. You need to be able the sustain a lot of wounds as shaking up a stagnant organization means being a lightning rod. To succeed you need to endear yourself to 75% of the client base while accepting the often voracious attack of the 25% less endeared. Though I agree fear of failure is in itself failure you cannot fail in a tranformational role.

  3. Computers says:

    Hey, I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I like what you have to say. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    • mubbisherahmed says:


      Thank you for your kind comments. It is always nice to get comments such as yours, it keeps me going and makes all the hard work worthwhile. I am currently in the process of writing a similar article on Bill Gates. Keep a lookout for it. Connect with me on LinkedIn if you want: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mubbisherahmed

      Mubbisher Ahmed

  4. Patricia says:

    Hey! Where did you get the quotes from Michael Dell?!

    • mubbisherahmed says:

      Not sure, it was a while ago. Over time some of the articles I used have disappeared from the Net. Try copy/pasting quotes into Google and maybe some articles appear that have quoted the same ones. Apologies, I can’t assist further.


      Mubbisher Ahmed

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