Michael Dell Started a Billion-Dollar Company at Age 19—With Just $1,000. Here Are 21 Lessons That Helped Him ‘Play Nice But Win'

Photo: Dell Technologies

I was always fascinated by computers since I was a kid. But my professional journey started in 1984, when I founded Dell Technologies with $1,000 at the age of 19.

I had an evolving vison of how technology — personal computers, network servers, data storage and software — should be designed, manufactured and sold. Today, Dell remains one of the largest tech companies in the world.

My philosophy is to play nice but win. The following, in no particular order, are the principles, traits, ideals and lessons that have helped me and our company succeed:

1. Curiosity. It's so important to always be learning. You want to have big ears. To lis­ten, to learn, and to be curious. To be open to ambiguity. Design your product from the customer back.

2. Use facts and data to make decisions. Be objective, humble and willing to change your mind if the facts and data suggest that's what is needed. The scientific method works in business.

3. Commitment, drive, grit, determination, perseverance, indomita­ble will. You must have these qualities in order to win.

4. Try never to be the smartest person in the room. Surround your­self with people who challenge you, teach you, inspire you, and push you to be your best. And learn to recognize and appreciate people's different talents. 

5. Trustworthiness, ethics and integrity are paramount. You can't be successful over time without these values. Markets are long-term efficient. If I make a commitment and don't meet it, or if I deliver a bad product or service, no one will want to buy from me again.

6. The rate of change is only increasing. It will not slow down in the future.

7. You must change or die. There are only the quick and the dead. Organizations need to constantly reimagine themselves, under­standing and anticipating all the factors, including and especially technology, that will impact them in the future.

8. Ideas are a commodity. Execution of them is not. Coming up with a great idea or strategy is necessary but, not sufficient for success. You must execute. This requires detailed operational discipline and understanding.

9. Teams win championships, not players. Always put the team ahead of the player.

10. Life is about taking a punch, falling down, getting back up and fighting again! (See number 3.)

11. Never let a good crisis go to waste — and if there is no crisis, create one (as a way of motivating change and progress). During a crisis, focus on what you can control. Crises often create new opportunities. Instead of wallowing in your problems, find the opportunity.

12. Don't be a victim, ever. Victimhood is a losing mindset. Self-determination requires focusing on what you can control and drive forward.

13. Confidence, not arrogance. Humility, not ego.

14. Everybody gets angry. But don't stay angry. Anger is counterpro­ductive. Instead, be motivated by a desire to help others.

15. Be (as we like to say at Dell) pleased, but never satisfied. This means improving continuously — the Japanese call it kaizen. It means being in a race with no finish line. Celebrate and appreci­ate achievements, but always look ahead to the next big goal or opportunity.

16. Success is a horrible teacher. (See numbers 3 and 10.) Setbacks and failures make you stronger over time — if you let yourself learn from them.

17. Be willing to take risks, experiment and test things. As the rate of change increases, small experiments will build a path to success.

18. Humility, openness, fairness and authenticity. (See number 13)

19. Have respect for others. And treat them as you want to be treated.

20. Optimism ... obviously! Finding ways to grow optimism in your­self will make you much happier.

21. Find purpose and passion in your life. Be part of something greater than yourself.

Michael Dell is the chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies. With revenues of $94 billion and 158,000 team members, Dell Technologies is one of the world's largest IT companies. Michael is also the author of "Play Nice But Win: A CEO's Journey From Founder to Leader." Follow him on Twitter @MichaelDell.

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