Michael Saul Dell was born in Houston, Texas. His father was an orthodontist, his mother a financial consultant and stockbroker. From an early age, Michael Dell was fascinated by both business and electronics, and couldn't wait to combine his two passions. At age eight he applied to take a high school equivalency exam, hoping to get out of school and into the business world faster. By his early teens, he was using the money he earned from part-time jobs to invest in stocks and precious metals. Gadgets and everything electronic continued to fascinate him; at age 15, he bought one of the first Apple computers and immediately disassembled it, to see if he could put it back together. In high school he took a job selling newspaper subscriptions and used his data research skills to identify an untapped customer base, earning $18,000 in a single year. He rewarded himself with a new computer and a BMW, and was soon planning a business venture of his own.
His parents hoped that he would pursue the study of medicine, but in his first year at the University of Texas, he started a small business, selling computer disk drives out of his dorm room. At the time, personal computer users could only buy their gear at retail stores, and the choice of features was dictated by the manufacturer. Any customizing of memory or disk drives had to be done after the purchase. Dell purchased unsold IBM PCs from retailers at cost, adding additional memory and disk drives and selling them at prices ten to 15 percent below retail. With an initial investment of $1,000, he registered the business with the State of Texas. Minimal advertising quickly brought him a large customer base on campus, and outside contracts followed quickly. Within months he moved off campus, filling a large apartment with computer parts and assembling new computers from scratch at a fraction of the cost of the traditional retailers.
Although he had promised his parents to curtail his business activities and concentrate on his studies, by spring vacation he had to break the news: his venture was writing sales of $80,000 a month. He was ready to quit school and run his business full-time. He incorporated the company -- initially called PC's Limited -- and pioneered selling personal computers by telephone order. By 1986, PC's Limited was offering the first toll-free technical support service, a practice later adopted widely in the computer industry.
As his business exploded, Dell continued to offer customers a discount of ten percent below his competitors through the application of "just-in-time" supply practices. Unlike other manufacturers, Dell purchased parts based on orders already in hand, and only assembled machines for immediate delivery. With no inventory or spare parts to store, the company enjoyed dramatically lower overhead than its competitors and passed the savings on to its customers. With his enormous volume of sales, Dell could insist that his suppliers maintain warehouses near his factories, to speed up the processing of orders, while the suppliers bore the cost of storing unsold parts. The tremendous sales volume kept the arrangement profitable for all concerned.
In 1988, Michael Dell changed the firm's name to Dell Computer Corporation and took the company public, raising $30 million in its initial public offering. Soon the business went global, with manufacturing facilities, partnerships and subsidiaries in Europe, Asia, Australia and Latin America. By 1992, Dell Computer had entered the Fortune 500 list of the world's largest companies, and at age 27, Michael Dell was the youngest CEO ever to lead one of the 500.
Dell Computer was also a pioneer of online commerce, selling computers over the burgeoning World Wide Web. When Dell filled its first orders in July 1996, many in the business community were still skeptical about online sales. Without promotion of any kind, the Dell web site immediately sold 30 to 50 computers a day. By the end of the decade, Dell's daily online sales were $18 million. Dell Computer had become the most profitable personal computer manufacturer in the world.
With the company's subsequent expansion into network servers, storage systems, printers, IT support services, projectors, home entertainment systems and personal electronic devices, the name was further shortened to Dell Inc. In 1998, Michael Dell founded MSD Capital LP, a private investment firm, to participate in building smaller companies. The following year, he and his wife founded the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to improve education, health and safety for children around the world. Michael Dell also published his engaging autobiography, Direct from Dell: Strategies That Revolutionized an Industry. In an entertaining narrative, Dell recounted how he built his $1,000 investment into the world's largest PC maker, worth $100 billion.
In 2004, Michael Dell stepped down as Chief Executive Officer of Dell Inc., while continuing to serve as Chairman of the Board. By the time he turned 40, the financial press estimated his net worth at close to $20 billion; in 2005 Forbes magazine identified him as the fourth richest man in the United States.
The University of Texas had already established the Dell Children's Medical Center when, in 2006, the university announced a $50 million matching grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to build three new facilities at the university. The Dell Pediatric Health Research Institute in Austin will be the nation's leading center for children's health and biomedical research. The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living addresses environmental factors that affect childhood development, particularly childhood obesity and related disorders, including Type 2 diabetes. Dell Computer Science Hall will house the university's computer science department, with the aim of creating the country's leading institution for the development of advanced applications for science and industry.
While Michael Dell focused on his philanthropic activities, the company he founded had fallen into the number two position in the personal computer market. In 2007 Michael Dell returned to the post of CEO and moved quickly to reclaim Dell Inc.'s primacy in the marketplace. By the end of the year, Dell had introduced the Inspiron 8000, the most powerful notebook computer on the market. Expanding from the company's longtime reliance on telephone and Internet sales, Dell began to sell computers in national retailers such as Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, and moved aggressively into the vast Chinese market. Dell also moved beyond the exclusive reliance on Microsoft Windows software and Intel microprocessors to produce PCs and servers supporting Linux and other operating systems. The company's sales in the year 2008 topped $60 billion, a new high.
The panic that gripped financial markets at the end of the year, was followed by a historic recession that hit all manufacturers hard. As the economy recovered, consumers spent more of their dollars on smart phones and tablet computers than on conventional desktop and laptop computers. In 2012, PC sales fell for the first time in a decade and sales of tablet computers approached those of laptops. Dell felt the squeeze, along with industry giants Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft.
After nearly 25 years as a publicly traded company, Michael Dell decided to take Dell, Inc. private again, in a $24.4 billion leveraged buyout. Among other participants, Microsoft lent a reported $2 billion to the new owners, which include the investment firm Silver Lake. Michael Dell retains a 16 percent stake in the company, and remains at the helm as CEO.