Back in 2004, a group of us from CNET News.com visited the Round Rock, Texas, headquarters of the PC giant. At the time, a few customers were grumbling about Dell's customer service, but otherwise the company looked unstoppable.
The company was also bulking up its executive ranks, and a weird number came from consulting firms: Bain & Co., McKinsey & Co., etc.
I asked one person about it (a McKinsey alum) who agreed: There were a lot of them. Dell prided itself on measurable results, after all, and where better to recruit than the firms that pioneered management by numbers?
Since then, it's been downhill. Customer complaints have increased, Hewlett-Packard has mounted a comeback, and Dell actually grew slower than the market in one quarter, an extremely rare occurrence.
Dell also bought Alienware, breaking with its 22-year policy of eschewing acquisitions. Will a guerrilla outfit hawking antiauthoritarianism still woo kids now that's it's a subsidiary of a Fortune 100 company? Time will tell. This week, Dell announced that it will open two new retail stores, following the lead of Samsung, Sony, Gateway and Apple Computer.
Personally, I see at least a slight connection. Management consultants are often brilliant and energetic individuals. They have degrees from universities that most of us only have ding letters from. But when they flock together, they tend to weigh a company down.
Why? Too much management expertise tends to make companies insular. It's what happens when everyone you know graduated from Wharton too. Those people checking out your products at Target--the harried mom, the Shoe Pavilion clerk on break, the middle-aged man being seduced by the smell of churros wafting from the snack bar--just start to seem grubby after awhile.
Unfortunately, to succeed in the tech market, you really need to suck up to your customers. (Oh, hey, let's just call it customer-facing engagement activities so we're all on the same page). Sony got creamed when it came out with an invasive DRM scheme.
This explains why the successful community sites are not the juggernauts started, funded and staffed by Silicon Valley celebrities, but the ones like MySpace created by individuals winging it on gut feeling.
We live in a world where some of the brightest minds out of Harvard are trying to discern the tastes and needs of 15-year-old metal-heads from Salt City, Mo. Something doesn't add up here.
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas. He has worked as an attorney, travel writer and sidewalk hawker for a time share resort, among other occupations.
7 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment