As a consumer, Michael Dell is your typical gadget geek. He carries a BlackBerry for messaging, he signed up for Microsoft's new XP operating system the minute it came out in October, and his Dell C400 Latitude notebook goes wireless--even at home.
But as a manufacturer and marketer, the CEO of Dell Computer could hardly be less enamored of tech gadgetry. His company is seldom first with a new feature or peripheral device. What excites him is cramming more processors into a server chassis or clustering a group of low-priced servers to do the work of a mainframe. He makes no apologies for sticking to the strategy he dreamed up 17 years ago in his dorm room at the University of Texas to beat IBM: sell directly to the customer and concentrate on value. "It worked then. Thing is, it works better now," he says with a grin that still makes him look boyish at age 36.
Dell Computer, based in Round Rock, Texas, near Austin, builds its servers around standard Intel chips and Windows software--a standard that smothers innovation, according to competitors of those companies. Michael Dell retorts that "what standards do is drive out inefficiencies. Dell is in the business of productivity, and that's a good business." He adds that "there's plenty of innovation within the standards." Even if his idea of a snazzy innovation is chopping a foot off the height of his servers so that they fit more easily through customers' doors.
--By Cathy Booth Thomas/Round Rock