One of the things for which Michael Dell will be best remembered is a famous quip he made about Apple back in the 1990s when Apple was struggling to stay alive and Steve Jobs had just returned to turn the place around. Asked what he'd do if he were in Jobs's shoes, Dell said, "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." Not long after that, someone at an Apple all-company meeting asked Steve Jobs about that comment, and Jobs delivered one of the best lines in the history of tech: "Fuck Michael Dell."
Yes indeed. Fuck Michael Dell. That was our Steve, and guess what? He was right. Apple's recovery and rise to world dominance has been well chronicled. In all the excitement nobody noticed how Dell was over in the corner, quietly fading away. In the end, nobody needed to fuck Michael Dell, because he fucked himself.
Dell hasn't made an exciting product or even had an exciting idea in more than a decade. The only thing Dell ever did of note was that they found a way to make PCs a little bit cheaper than everyone else. That was it. Their innovation was about process, not about product. And that advantage got erased when everyone else started making stuff in China.
Today the news is that Dell, the company, is going private, in a leveraged buyout valued at $24.4 billion and led by Silver Lake Partners, a private equity company. Michael Dell is kicking in some billions, and Microsoft is contributing as well. In a statement, Dell said the deal "will open an exciting new chapter for Dell, our customers and team members."
Please. Deals like this are where big companies go to die. Michael Dell has gone to hell. He's now in bed with a bunch of ruthless private equity guys whose role in this world is not to build things, but to take them apart and sell the pieces. They're corporate chop shops.
As if that weren't bad enough, Dell also now finds himself on the end of Microsoft's leash. That would have been a tough fate back in the days when Microsoft was just evil. But now Microsoft is stagnant too, bereft of big ideas, behind the curve in every area. Won't it be great having them at the controls?
Microsoft is a hollowed-out shell, a place so lame that it reaches for relevance by clinging to hardware partners. First came the deal with Nokia where Microsoft spent billions so it would have at least one phone maker committed to using Windows Phone 8, and hey, look at how well that one has worked out for both parties! Now Microsoft will have Dell as its prisoner. God only knows why, or what the Borg will do with Dell. The PR guys will come up with some guff about synergy and the power of this great partnership between Dell and Microsoft.
But right now the quips come rushing at me so fast I can't process them all: Rats swimming toward a sinking ship; yoking boat anchors together and hoping they'll float.
A Colossal Wreck
Back in the 1990s I used to cover Dell for Forbes, and I visited the company a few times. They were riding high then, and boy did they let you know it. They were perhaps not as arrogant as Apple is today, but close. I recall very clearly a conversation with Michael Dell where he told me that these little PDAs and phones were never going to be a big deal because who would ever want to read things on such a tiny screen? No, he assured me, the PC had a strong, vibrant future ahead of it.
And now here we are, and I'm thinking about "Ozymandias," and thinking how grateful I am that my high school English teacher made us read that.
Good luck, Michael Dell, and Godspeed. I am pretty sure that I will never use a Dell product, ever, for the rest of my life. But I suppose other people will. I will pray for their souls.
Image courtesy of Reuters.