Entrepreneurs

Billionaire CEO Michael Dell tells employees, forget hierarchy: 'Be willing to break things, make stuff happen'

Dell founder Michael Dell.
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Dell founder Michael Dell.

Dell Technologies — which includes seven businesses Dell, Dell EMC, Pivotal, RSA, Secureworks, Virtustream, VMware — has 140,000 employees. In the most recent financial quarter, Dell Technologies saw more than $19 billion in revenue, according to the company's financials.

That's a far cry from where Dell started. Billionaire founder, CEO and Chairman Michael Dell launched what would become Dell in 1984 from his college dorm room with $1000. He took apart computers and discovered that a $3,000 computer was made up of $500 in parts.

"The idea was well, if you could make one of these things and sell it for $700, right, you still have a very nice profit and you wouldn't need all the dealers and everything. That's how the company started," says Dell, speaking at the Built to Adapt conference put on by software company Pivotal Monday in San Francisco. "Dropped out of school, started with $1000 in my dorm room, and here we are today."

Though Dell is no longer a start-up, Mr. Dell, the namesake CEO, works to maintain a fast-moving, nimble culture.

"If you have a big company, there are a lot of people running around that tell you you can't do stuff." -Michael Dell, Dell Technologies founder, CEO and chairman

One way he does that is by emphasizing action over adherence to a hierarchy.

"At our company, if we want to get something done, we tell them: 'Just get it done. If anybody gets in your way, just shoot them.' Not actually shoot them, but like, we're all from Texas, so we use colorful analogies like that," says Dell. "Make sure everybody knows we're not actually shooting" people, Dell says. (Dell is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas.)

"Don't let anything stand in your way. Look, if you're gonna do something new, you have to be willing to break things, and sort of make stuff happen," says Dell. "If you have a big company, there are a lot of people running around that tell you you can't do stuff."

Dell says he is hyper-focused on making sure his company is always innovating, specifically in the process of developing software. Instead of releasing one perfect software update, Dell says he pushes to constantly iterate.

"I think the issue of risk is really interesting, because what a lot of people are looking at, like should I take a risk to do this, to do something in a new way? It feels risky to change .... but it's actually the reverse, which is not doing it is where the risk lies," says Dell.

"I think a lot of this — the metaphor or the trend to go to continuous change — feels risky, but it's the reverse. Not doing it is the risky part," Dell says.

People lose out on opportunity because they avoid risk too desperately, the tech entrepreneur espouses.

"I've actually come to believe that most people don't take on nearly the risks that they should and are generally way too cautious, so I think there's a lot of unrealized human potential because people are scared ... to take risks," says Dell.

See also:

Silicon Valley insider on achieving success: Don't be intimidated by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk—instead listen to Steve Jobs' advice

This favorite saying of Mark Zuckerberg reveals the way the Facebook billionaire thinks about life

How Amazon founder Jeff Bezos went from the son of a teen mom to the world's richest person