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Learning from Dell’s Culture of Innovation

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In 1984, at age 19, Michael Dell founded PC’s Limited with $1,000 and a game-changing vision for how technology should be designed, manufactured and sold. Just 4 years later, Dell went public, raising $30 million, increasing market capitalization from $1,000 to $85 million. From the growth fueled ‘90s to the early 2000’s where Dell expanded into new markets like China, Dell has continued to evolve with technology and innovation. Today Dell continues to be a leader in cultivating entrepreneurs and even has an Entrepreneur-in-Residence.  

We sat down with Harvest Council Member Elizabeth Gore, entrepreneur guru and Dell’s current Entrepreneur-in-Residence as well as Emeritus Chair of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council to talk about innovation and Dell’s unique culture and transformation through the decades.  

How has Dell created a culture of innovation?

Dell invests in entrepreneurs and its own people. Dell has built an ecosystem to help entrepreneurs scale, cultivate talent and share key learnings. It fosters that entrepreneurial spirit in its own people by tangible things such as the wall at our corporate headquarters in Round Rock, TX , where every employee’s patents are proudly displayed on panels that line the entry way. Our founder, Michael Dell fosters a culture of innovation – it comes from the top.

What new innovations do you want in your life, why?

Data analytics and IoT coming together are the two must haves for me. It informs workouts, socializing, car fuel efficiency and more. Those two things in combination are powerful. Dell has a goal of having 50% of their workforce work from home by 2020. Why? It is less impactful on the environment, gives more flexible employment to caregivers and can create an entrepreneurial environment. Obviously, there is conflicting opinion here, for example Yahoo! has gone in the other direction, but the virtual workplace can empower people.

Sama Group was founded by Leila Janah in 2008 to be a self funded non-profit. She lifts people out of poverty in rural areas like the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, and even rural Arkansas — and trains people to do digital work, such as flagging inappropriate content posted to websites and social networks.  That couldn’t exist without data analytics and IoT coming together.  

Why is the triple bottom line important to you?

The triple bottom line – people, planet and profit – is a way for us to prosper, grow and not destroy our planet or ourselves. Dell looks at all three success factors as metrics to quantify success. Some are easier to measure than others, but just recognizing this triple bottom line approach will help inform our decisions and our future.

Do you have stories about collaborating with unlikely people/sources?

Nothing But Nets a malaria relief initiative I worked on when I was Vice President Global Partnerships at the UN brought together the NBA, Sports Illustrated and the United Methodist Church! Unlikely pairings bring challenges, but also a diverse audience and different skill sets. The benefits can outweigh the challenges. In May of 2006 Rick Reilly wrote a column in SI that challenged readers to donate $10 to hang malaria nets over kids in Africa. 10 years later they’ve raised $60 million and helped over 6 million people. That’s impact.

How is social impact and innovation important to you?

Two ways – investing time in my company’s innovation and social impact will help keep us sustainable and profitable.  Knowing that this is my children’s future makes it a personal priority and makes it more interesting.  

What strategic role does Dell’s new social enterprise Verb play in Dell’s CSR?

It goes beyond just giving money to philanthropic efforts, it gives technology solutions to help drive them. For example Dell created a platform using data analytics and social media for the American Red Cross to enable them to gather data and respond to disasters in real time. Michael Dell was the first Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship at the United Nations Foundation. His time and advice can’t be quantified in dollars.  

How does Dell innovate while staying true to it’s heritage?

It’s all about that constant drive for change, it comes directly from Michael Dell and is ingrained in our culture. Most key executives at Dell have been here for a long time- over 15 years. Dell has a different culture than most tech companies, it is transparent, straightforward and respectful. That constant drive for change, with a respectful and nurturing environment retains talent while innovating.  

How does being privately held nurture innovation?

The move from a public company back to a private one in 2013 has created a much more long term approach, which makes for a very flexible environment. It allows Dell to be very analytical when they engage technology challenges, highly calculated risk and very long horizons rather than needing to think short term to answer the market.

I asked Michael Dell recently, “What is the best part of being private?” He responded, “I got 20% of my time back.”  The amount of time that he needed to invest in public facing activities, earnings reports etc. Time away from focusing on Dell’s future, that’s a flag for startups looking to go public as soon as possible, staying at the helm at a public company brings different priorities and challenges..  

Elizabeth will be a featured speaker at Harvest Summit on November 4, 2016.  Learn more about our agenda, see our speaker roster and request an invitation.


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