NEW YORK – Its easy to forget now, but Michael Dell was the Mark Zuckerberg of his day.
Hailed as a young genius, he created the inexpensive, made-to-order personal computer in his dorm room and sold it straight to the public. In the 1980s and 90s, his face appeared on magazine covers, and well before he turned 40, he was a college dropout-turned-billionaire CEO, ranked alongside Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
But that was a long time ago in the fast-moving world of high technology. Now the PC is getting eclipsed by smartphones and tablet computers, and Dell is struggling to save his company – and his legacy.
Tuesdays announcement that Michael Dell and the investment firm Silver Lake have struck a $24.4 billion deal to buy Dell Inc. and take it private may well be the founders last chance to recapture his former glory. The agreement will allow the company to attempt a turnaround without having to worry about keeping its stock price up and pleasing Wall Street.
For Michael Dell, 47, the attempt to retool the company he built is personal, said technology analyst Patrick Moorhead, who runs Moor Insights & Strategy.
His name is on the logo and all the buildings. So he takes all of this very personally, Moorhead said. This is a way for him to solidify the way people will look at him and remember him.
Analysts said Dell Inc. will have to mine more profitable areas such as technology consulting and business software.
In a statement, Dell himself said little more than that the transformation will take more time, investment and patience.
The company he founded some 29 years ago rose to the top of the worlds PC market more than a decade ago.
In its heyday, its turn-of-the-millennium ad slogan, Dude, youre getting a Dell, became a pop-culture catchphrase.
Dell sold directly to customers, cutting out stores and other middlemen, and passing the savings along.
What Michael Dell was all about was getting products to people faster and more directly and at a lower cost than anyone could, Forrester Research analyst David Johnson said.
With smartphones booming, PC sales weakening, and tablets expected to outsell laptop computers this year, Dells old slogan is more likely to be phrased as a question, as in: Dude, youre getting a Dell?