It seems hard to separate Michael Dell from the company he founded all those years ago as a college student with a talent for building personal computers.
Dell, the company, learned that lesson the hard way when Michael Dell stepped down from his leadership position in 2004 and his hand-picked successor, Kevin Rollins, took the reins as CEO. Less than two years later, as Dell watched its share of PC shipments fall, questions raised about its finances and customers asking for better products and more services, the company looked back to its founder to make things right again.
On Jan. 31, Michael Dell will mark his one-year return as CEO in charge of the day-to-day operations of his company. The results, so far, have been refreshing-a departure from the way the company had been run-but more work needs to be done.
"I'd say that we have had a very positive improvement with our relationship with Dell during the last year," said Lew Moorman, senior vice president for Strategy and Corporate Development at hosting company Rackspace, a large Dell customer. "I don't know how much of that is because of leadership change, but in terms of them being more customer-centric and listening more, we have seen a big improvement-both from a product standpoint and a customer relationship standpoint. We feel that we are in much better hands than we were 18 months ago."
In the last 12 months, at least, Michael Dell's return seems more reminiscent of Steve Jobs' return to Apple, which rebounded with a vengeance, rather than Ted Waitt's return to Gateway's front office. (Gateway never full rebounded and was acquired in 2007 by Acer for $710 million.)
"Michael Dell's return was a very dramatic event and I think you have seen that instead of a rip-and-replace plan, there has been a much more methodical approach and a look at what has been working and a look at where they can shore up the weak points," said Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research.
Under Dell's renewed leadership, the company has introduced a number of new products for the enterprise, embraced Linux for its PCs, connected with customers through its IdeaStorm and Direct2Dell blogs, dropped the religion of direct sales for a channel strategy and expanded through strategic acquisitions.