by Jerry Gregoire

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp.

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Chairman and CEO

Dell Computer Corp.

Now here’s a rŽsumŽ that wouldn’t make it past HR: One year of college. Worked for one company for 18 years with no promotion or even a boss who could be used as a reference. Unwilling to relocate.

In 1983, at 18, Michael Saul Dell began conducting business out of his dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin, selling custom-made PCs and components. A year later, with $1,000 in startup capital, he officially set up his business and dropped out of the university, dashing his parents’ hope for another doctor in the family. Today he runs the second largest (after the HP-Compaq merger) and still fastest-growing PC maker in the world.

A company known for its dominance with corporate customers, Round Rock, Texas-based Dell recently went from number five to number one with consumers in just 18 months with the help of quirky advertising and pricing that’s driving the competition completely nuts. And they’re making money. Lots of it.

Dell’s continued spectacular performance through the downturn makes the compelling argument that Michael Dell is the greatest entrepreneur of our time. Indisputably brilliant, he seems to have few, if any, interests beyond his family and our industry. But that, of course, is the key. That is why Michael Dell is different from you and me: his single-minded, unwavering focus and obsession for that one thing.

Ask him what he’s currently passionate about, thinking to draw him into a conversation about a hobby or a new venture, and he launches into a discussion about his company’s direct sales model. Change tack and ask what, beyond his company, excites him, hoping to hear something about social issues or his family’s considerable philanthropic efforts, and you get a description of the shift from Unix to Linux. Finally, in desperation, ask, “So when you have a bad day at work, what other things do you imagine yourself doing?” and Dell replies, “I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and I have occasional bad days, but I don’t think about doing something else. I think about what I need to do to fix it. I think I’m going all the way. I’m 37 years old, and we’re going to see how great we can make this company.”