Spotlight On... Michael Dell; Founder, Dell Computers

Tom Bawden
Wednesday 16 January 2013 00:13 GMT

Is the guy selling his company?

According to undenied reports, you're absolutely right. Mr Dell is in talks with a couple of private-equity firms about selling his beloved, but beleaguered, computer firm, with a price tag rumoured to be about $20bn (£12.4bn).

Computers, eh? Is he a bit of a nerd?

Put it this way. He got a job washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant at the age of 12 so he could build up his stamp collection, and bought an early Apple computer three years later so he could take it apart and see how it worked.

Don't tell me, he set up Dell in his university dorm?

That's the type. Young Michael started the company in his University of Texas dorm room in 2004 with just $1,000, building computers to sell to his fellow students. Eight years later, still in his late twenties, he became the youngest-ever chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.

That kind of success must have gone to his head?

You could say that. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, Mr Dell famously suggested he'd be best off shutting down the company and returning the cash to shareholders. Nine years later, Mr Jobs had the last laugh when Apple's market value surpassed Dell's. These days, Apple is trading at more than 20 times the value of Dell, whose core business of personal computers and servers has been hit by the phenomenal growth of tablets and smartphones.

So Dell could do with some new input – but will a deal get done?

The $64,000 question is whether Mr Dell, who still owns about 15 per cent of his baby's shares, can agree a price he is happy with after a major decline in the company's shares. Even if a price can be agreed, the successful private-equity buyer is going to need a good few billion dollars' worth of debt to help finance the leveraged buyout. While that kind of loan might have been a formality in the mid-Noughties before the bubble burst, things aren't so simple these days.

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