NEW YORK CITY—Michael Dell and Michael Bloomberg both launched companies in the 1980s that grew to be powerhouses in their respective industries. Both also left their eponymous companies for a while—Dell for three years and Bloomberg for 12, after serving three terms as the city’s mayor—only to return to retake the helms.
On Jan. 27, both sat on a stage at Bloomberg headquarters here to talk about what they found when they returned and the challenges both companies face in a rapidly changing business world. The message from both Dell and Bloomberg was essentially the same: businesses that don’t evolve and don’t adapt to changing demands from customers won’t be around very long.
For Michael Dell, that meant reassessing his company and where the market was heading when he returned as CEO in 2007 after stepping down three years earlier. He decided that Dell had to grow beyond its roots as a PC box maker and evolve into an enterprise IT solutions and services provider, an effort that is ongoing today, most notably in the company’s $67 billion bid to buy data storage giant EMC.
“We saw an emerging cyber-security challenge,” Michael Dell said, speaking to a packed room of IT professionals, journalists and Bloomberg and Dell employees. “We saw changes in IT that were going to transform the industry, and that are accelerating today. … We saw that products alone were insufficient. … We needed to some new things and had to set off on a new course.”
The appearance by Michael Dell and Michael Bloomberg came at the end of an afternoon-long series of keynotes and panel discussions by executives with both companies as well as by industry analysts and IT professionals from a range of other businesses who talked about the increasing demands being put on IT organizations by such trends as big data, analytics, mobility, hyper-connectivity, cloud computing and the massive amounts of data being generated by the growing numbers of connected devices in the world.
The speakers touched on everything from security and integration to hybrid clouds and innovation as companies work to evolve into what they were calling the “future-ready enterprise, businesses that have the agility, flexibility and scalability to adapt to the changing demands from customers brought on by the growing industry trends.”
Matt Eastwood, senior vice president of enterprise infrastructure and data center at market research firm IDC, said the future is coming fast. By 2020, 85 percent of Global 2000 companies will be undergoing transformations into digital businesses, 75 percent will have fully information-based economic models and 45 percent of large enterprises will be information-based companies, Eastwood said. However, a recent survey of more almost 2,600 IT professionals by IDC found that 80 percent of companies are not future-ready.
The analyst said these businesses will need to start adapting, and that will involve thinking strategically about the future.
“It’s about doing some really solid planning,” Eastwood said, warning that it can’t happen overnight and that businesses need to talk a holistic view of their needs. “It’s equivalent to planning for retirement.”
That was an underlying message throughout the day: IT and business officials will need to take measured, far-reaching steps when working through the transformation efforts, on everything from deciding on a strategy for adopting hybrid cloud environments to addressing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies to rethinking security in a business world where more work is done on connected devices sitting outside the corporate firewall and generating massive amounts of data.
Dell, Bloomberg Discuss a Changing Business World
There are challenges, but they’re challenges businesses should want to embrace given the benefits that companies, their employees and their customers can gain in a world of faster services, greater mobility and more information, said Edima Elinewinga, executive director of IT for the United Nations Foundation.
“Almost everything is disruptive right now—cloud, IoT [Internet of things], BYOD,” Elinewinga said. “But they’re all good disruptions.”
Both Michael Dell and Michael Bloomberg echoed those sentiments. They were interviewed onstage by Vonnie Quinn, an anchor with Bloomberg Television, whose questions touched on everything from the future of the tech industry and how they planned to grow their companies, to the debt businesses should carry and how firms can attract and retain talented employees.
Michael Dell said that technology is driving the rapid changes in the global society and that it isn’t difficult to envision where the next trillion dollars will come from for the $3.5 trillion industry, given the growth of connected devices and data generation. There are 8 billion connected devices today, he said, “and we can see very clearly how we’ll get to 50 billion devices.”
“The relevancy of IT in today’s society has never been greater, and the impact on the world can’t be overstated,” he said.
Michael Bloomberg, who returned to run his business in 2013 after leaving the mayoral office, several times said that business leaders need to take a pragmatic approach as they steer their companies. Understand what’s happening in their industries, do what you do well and be agile enough to adapt quickly to changing demands, and don’t worry about chasing every rival and startup or about trying to be the best at everything.
“As businesses change, what’s in your customer’s interest is where you want to be,” he said.