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Book describes Dell's meteoric rise

Direct from Dell, due out in March, sheds light on some of the key strategies and events behind the computer maker's success.

A book detailing some of the strategies and key events behind Dell Computer will come out in March, a release that will put CEO Michael Dell into the technology author's club.

Titled Direct From Dell, the book--co-written by Dell and Catherine Fredman--describes in 250 plus pages how the direct sales strategy of Dell evolved as well as Michael Dell's

Direct from Dell will be released in March.
seemingly strong dislike of stores. On a vacation to London in the mid-80's, "I had taken the opportunity to roam into a couple of computer stores, and I observed the same high markup/lousy service phenomenon in the United Kingdom as I had in the United Stated. We decided to expand into the U.K.," he writes.

A number of high tech CEOs, including Andy Grove, Gil Amelio, and John Sculley, have come out with co-authored books in recent years, making the self-help business book something of a status symbol.

The meteoric rise of Dell, according to the book, largely seems to derive from an ability to stick to the basics. Dell moved to the center of the PC industry at the 1986 Comdex trade show when it released a PC with a 12-MHz processor, before the mainstream had moved to that level. IBM at the time was selling more expensive 6-MHz computers. The pitch to performance worked, he writes.

Later, the company was on the verge of launching a cutting-edge product family called Olympic. Customers who previewed the prototypes, however, said the Olympic gave them too much technology. The project was canceled. In 1993, the company reduced its notebook line to one model. Sales picked back up.

Despite the occasional mishap, however, the company's history seems to move on an upward trajectory. The first public stock offering, for instance, took place during the week of Black Monday, the day the stock market crash took place in 1987.

Although Dell states that the book is intended as a volume on business strategies and is not a biography, a few personal tidbits pop up. Among the details:

  • Dell started his first business, called "Dell's Stamps," at the age of 12. It netted the boy stamp collector/dealer $2,000. "And I learned an early, powerful lesson about the reward of eliminating the middleman," he writes.

  • At 16, he sold newspaper subscriptions to the Houston Post by canvassing mortgage and marriage license lists, thus showing an eerie, and early, interest in phone solicitation that somehow escaped the eye of guidance counselors. He made $18,000 his first year, more than some of his high school teachers, he says. By graduation, he was driving a BMW.

  • PC Limited, the company's first name, started out as a gray marketer. Dell bought excess inventory of IBM PCs, beefed them up, and resold them at a higher price.

  • While corporate legend says that he sold computers out of a dorm room at the University of Texas, Dell reveals he moved out of the dorm room fairly early on during his freshman year and into a condominium. Technically, Dell also did not drop out of school initially, but went on leave.

  • His junior high math teacher was named Mrs. Darby.

    As would befit a book about Dell Computer, the volume shares strong ties to both Intel and Microsoft. Co-author Catherine Fredman was also the co-author of Andy Grove's book Only the Paranoid Survive.

    And the authors of the first two critical blurbs in the press release? Andy Grove and Bill Gates.