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Book Of The Week: A vital survival guide for managers

IT IS bizarre reviewing a book by one of my larger competitors. But it is difficult to refuse an early opportunity to read the scripts of a truly remarkable entrepreneur.

Thanks Michael, about time too. This is the book the computer industry has been longing for, to try to establish just how you did it.

To my pleasant surprise the book went further than just detailing how Dell has achieved such meteoric growth. It is what I believe an honest account of Michael Dell's business philosophy. Anyone buying the book as a history lesson might be a little disappointed.

It's not Michael Dell's memoirs, nor a detailed account of events at Dell Corporation. Instead it is a solid management survival guide, full of tips and advice based on Dell's approach and culture. I found it practical and useful. I would challenge any self- propelled business person not Direct from Dell

by Michael Dell

(HarperCollins, pounds 19.99)

to derive useful lessons from it. The book divided into two sections, and an easy read. It is not full of technical jargon or industry-speak and you won't need to call any computer technical support lines, to be put on hold for hours, just to find out the meaning of yet another industry TLA (three letter acronym).

In the first section Michael describes the growth of Dell from the cradle to a $18bn juggernaut. But rather than detail the growth purely for the interest of business historians, he uses each step to pass on a wealth of business advice. It is not simply a case of "I did this" and "We did that", it is more of "We did this and what we learnt was ...".

I found his open writing style had me glued to every page and on many occasions I found myself jotting ideas in my diary with a view to instigating them in my business.

The second section is a collection of Dell's viewpoints and techniques for building partnerships with his employees, customers and suppliers. I found this section very interesting and couldn't agree more with the majority of the content. In particular, two things struck a chord, firstly the importance of information flow through a business and secondly, how Michael Dell is using the Internet not just as a sales vehicle but to conduct customer surveys.

In every business book I read, I always try to find the one sentence or paragraph that really stimulates me to change or challenge something I do in my own organisation or one I can bring up as a topic in management meetings. This book presented me with dozens of topics.

Three useful subjects covered in the book are:

nKeep it simple, complexity kills;

nYou have to constantly question everything you do, and

nYou need to engender a sense of personal investment in all of your employees.

I also found a great analogy to help explain how the Internet fits into the bigger picture with customers. The Internet is not a substitute for a live salesperson, he writes, but adds that it does augment the sales rep's functions.

"The relationship is similar to that between a customer and a bank. For major transactions, customers want to talk to a real person: other times, they're happy to use an ATM." I find little more interesting and stimulating than to read books by authors who have themselves been successful in business.

Sure, you can glean information from authors who are great strategists and theorists, but unless they have experienced the "doing it", their ideas and viewpoints lack both passion and depth.

If you also judge the quality of a business book from how useful it is, I am sure that you will find Direct from Dell has you scribbling down notes from cover to cover.

The reviewer is the founder of Software Warehouse