Michael Dell on His Best Career Advice and Why Failure is Key for Success

In an episode from my long-running 5 Questions podcast, I spoke with Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies. Michael started Dell in his dorm room at the University of Texas and today it’s become one of the most successful technologies companies in the world. He is one of the 25 richest people in the world with a net worth of over $50 billion, and Dell Technologies made over $90 billion in revenue this year.

During our conversation, we talked about his entrepreneurial journey, his best career advice, and other topics from his memoir, “Play Nice But Win.” Below is the transcript from this episode, and you can also listen to the podcast on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify.

How did experimenting with technology as a teenager lead to you start your company?

Playing around with computers had a lot to do with where I am now. When I was in high school, it was the dawn of the microprocessor age. I got enthralled by the power of the PC, and also saw that the way the machines were being sold was pretty inefficient and thought I could do it in a better way.

I talk a lot about curiosity in my book. It's certainly something I believe a lot in, and I think people underrate it as a valuable skill. But I've always had a desire to learn and understand things. When I got my first computer, the first thing I did was take it apart — because how could you understand how it works if you don't take it apart? It was a wonderful time to be learning. And there are still so many incredible opportunities out there.

You've had many failures over the course of running Dell. What did you learn from these experiences that helped you make better business decisions?

I’ve learned that the best thing you can do is to fix an issue as fast as you find it. And anybody who says they've had a lot of success and hasn't failed is just lying. At the core of success is curiosity, learning, and failure. You have to experiment, try something — maybe it works, but probably it doesn't, so adjust it. Failure is an integral part of success. Nobody just succeeds.

How do you evaluate talent when making hiring decisions?

It's pretty context specific, because we don't want all the talent to be the same. What we're really looking for is the ability to grow and to learn inside the business. When I think about who we're going to hire, who we're going to promote, and who we're going to give more responsibility to, we're thinking a couple years down the road. So having a learning mindset is super important.

What are your plans for the next phase of your career and your life?

I'm the chairman of three public companies and CEO of one. My wife and I have a family foundation that we’re spending more and more time on, and that'll occupy an increasing percentage of my focus going forward. And I've also got an asset management company that I set up, MSD Partners, that's been involved in lots of different, exciting businesses. All that and four kids keeps me pretty busy.

What is your best piece of career advice?

When you find a problem, go fix it right away. It’s pretty simple advice, but it works.

Nobody comes to you and says, “I wish you would've waited longer to make that decision.” That never happens. So don't hesitate to have the difficult conversations that are necessary to get things back on track and fixed.

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this podcast episode!

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