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Direct from Dell by Michael Dell

Dell's account of the rise of his corporation is quite remarkable - it does always seem that the simplest ideas are always the ones that succeed - and the ones that are always challenged by critics. In hindsight, selling PC's direct to consumers via the Internet is quite literally a no-brainer. But back when Dell started his shop, it was unthinkable. It cannot be a coincidence that the rise of Dell parallels the rise of the Internet. Below are the best of Michael's nuggets, and their potential application at my current employer (no names please!

After reading this, I asked some folks I know who have both worked internally at Dell, and with Dell as a customer or supplier - my question was... "Have you read this book? If so - is it really like that?" The answer is a resounding "YES" which blows me away. My technology company experience did not follow any of the following precepts.

Insight Current Employer Takeaway
Think like Wayne Gretsky - don't skate to where the puck is, skate to where it is going. It is obvious that the future of e-commerce and online giving is huge - we currently do less than 1/2 of 1% of our total online revenue via online channels. To both maximize revenues and minimize costs, we can aggressively grow this to over 10% in the next 2 to 3 years by converting existing users in our offline dB to online, opening up new donor demographics and by maximizing online event registration and donations.
Constantly question, even the good stuff. It's not enough to to look at top line growth in revenues - we should be fanatical about bottom line numbers, and manage our growth on margins in order to maximize and ensure the success of our mission.
Treat all employees as owners, even if they aren't. As a for-profit to non-profit crossover, this is an easy one to imagine happening - yet I see an amazing amount of lethargy, duplication of efforts and inefficiencies that individuals are responsible for. Reframing their responsibility may be one way to help them understand that they each contribute (or detract) from the bottom line. As in for-profit companies, it's not just about a raise or a end of year bonus. Treating employees as owners encourages pride, workmanship, personal investment but requires open communications to the lowest level of the organization.
Don't be satisfied by knowing only your industry. We concern ourselves with knowing what other charities are up to, but we rarely look to other industries for leadership and execution examples - a common question we ask internally is "what is cancer doing?" While not everything in other industries is 100% applicable, I'm convinced that we're missing out on a lot of innovative thinking by looking only at our own industry.
Marry high tech and high touch. An online should be able to log on to our site, view their entire history of giving and involvement with us and update their contact information in real-time. We'll get there one day!
Keep it simple with your suppliers - complications will confuse everything at every level. Print on demand, single source procurement, centralized buying contracts at the national and chapter levels are things for-profits did years ago... we're still struggling to even comprehend what that means evidenced by the complex set of partners, suppliers and vendor relationships we have across the entire organization. Just last month I had to do an end run to buy 250 plastic ducks because our purchasing department could only manage to make things harder, not easier for me. Imagine how a chapter feels.
Be the hunted, not the hunted - always strive to grow the business and NEVER allow complacency. This is obviously not the case as we are in many ways complacent and wait for other charities to stick their neck out before us. We're missing big opportunities (granted, we're not making too many mistakes either) in being a leader especially in driving the online donor relationship to it's obvious, and eventual conclusion :)

In addition to the notes above, there were several interesting cultural and organizational topics including Dell's take on recycling of computers. As Dell installs hundreds of thousands of PC's, Dell knows that eventually, someone will have to recycle them. A new chassis design that is not only fully recyclable but also easier to build and takes less time to manufacture was created. Dell uses no adhesives or paints and took the lead in the industry with this approach. That same chassis now lowers life cycle costs and cost of ownership. Screws, nuts and bolts can be replaced with clips and trays, making it easier for both Dell and their customers to access internal components. The time savings translates into increased productivity and lower costs. Incredible leadership.

The last piece that really blew me away was the idea of segmenting and spinning up new businesses to both address company growth rates and employee engagement. In order for Dell to manage their astounding growth rates, they devised a strategy that would allow them to essentially operate as a small business, no matter how large they get. They constantly create and re-create business units by segmenting down to more granular units. They take their best people, put them in charge and allow them to continue to grow these segments at rates only small companies can achieve. It's brilliant. It must be an amazing place to work. Being a "star" in that organization would afford entrepreneur's a chance to constantly reinvent themselves and their businesses. If you like that sort of thing.