Play Nice But Win – Michael Dell
Play Nice But Win is an inspiring book written by Michael Dell, the founder of Dell Technologies, that provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the world of technology and business. Published in 2021, the book chronicles Michael Dell’s journey from a teenager selling upgrade kits out of his dorm room to the CEO of a mega-corporation worth billions of dollars.
Throughout the book, Dell shares some of the key strategies and tactics that have helped him achieve success. One of the most important pieces of advice he gives is to focus on building relationships and partnerships with other companies in your industry.
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Dell credits much of his own success to strategic partnerships with other tech companies, such as Microsoft and Intel.
Restless Curiosity: Straight from Michael Dell
I had incessant energy and was going in all directions at once. When I was in the second or third grade, my parents sent me to a child psychiatrist, Dr. Pesikoff. I remember playing table hockey and doing puzzles with him. I later asked Mom and Dad why they’d sent me, and they said they couldn’t figure me out.
The report back from Dr. Pesikoff was, “The kid is fine.” He was more worried about my parents being able to deal with all my curiosity.
Parents Influence: Discussing the economy on the dinner table
My parents weren’t into sports; we didn’t sit around on the weekend and watch the game. When my mom and dad talked, it wasn’t gossip or chitchat. They were constantly discussing the economy: What was the Federal Reserve doing? Where were oil prices, interest rates, currencies, and the stock market?
We had Forbes, Fortune, and Barron’s in the house, and we used to love watching Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street Week. Even before my mom started working as a stockbroker, she had these huge Value Line books with pages and pages of information on individual companies. I soaked it all in.
Always be Closing Vs Scaling
You’re probably familiar with the acronym ABC: Always Be Closing. But how about ABS—Always Be Scaling?
When Michael was a high school student, he took a job selling newspaper subscriptions to the Houston Post through cold calling. When he realized that newlyweds tended to subscribe at higher rates than others, he figured out how to simultaneously focus and scale his sales efforts.
Via information available at local courthouses, he created lists of everyone in a given county who’d recently applied for a marriage license. Then he sent out direct-mail letters to these prospects. This helped him reach more people than he could through cold calling and also convert at higher rates.
To scale, first do stuff that doesn’t scale
When Michael started the company that would one day become Dell Technologies, he sold desktop PCs that he customized to his customers’ exact specifications.
In part, he pursued this highly hands-on approach because, as an 18-year-old founder funding his start-up entirely on his own, he had very little capital — only $1000 to start with.
So he couldn’t afford to carry much inventory.
Through this approach, however, he was able to provide his customers with machines that were faster and more powerful than what his larger, mass-market competitors were selling through retail channels.
Be pleased but never satisfied
Mr. Dell lists the aphorism “Success is a horrible teacher,” a pithy evocation of how good outcomes can lull an individual or company into complacency and thus make them blind or indifferent to changing conditions that should in fact prompt new perspectives and approaches.
To counteract this dynamic, Michael pursues a path of continuous improvement and encapsulates that mindset in another phrase he includes in the appendix: “Be pleased but never satisfied.” What I love about this construct is how it makes room for a sense of accomplishment within the greater drive for improvement.
Because while both individuals and companies should always be striving for learning, evolution, and progress, a sense of fulfillment is also key for fueling growth over the long haul.
Small but thoughtful gestures have a big impact
In 2015, Michael Dell engineered a deal to acquire EMC and its subsidiary VMware for $67 billion. This was the largest pure tech deal in history, a merger of two very large and successful companies with their own long-standing cultures and legacies.
To ensure a smooth integration, Michael Dell made it a priority to connect with as many EMC employees as possible in the following year. He met in person with those he could, and he also reached out virtually in a proactive way.
He connected with everyone who had a reasonably important title at EMC, VMware, and Pivotal on LinkedIn. This was unexpected, as most people would not expect the CEO to personally reach out to them.
Play nice but win
Michael Dell’s parents advised him and his brothers to “play nice but win” while playing street ball.
This ethos has been a guiding force in Dell’s career as an entrepreneur and business leader. He believes that businesses must focus on winning while still prioritizing ethics.