It is rather ironic that the Middle East head of Dell, a company often criticised for coming late to the party, tells me that “timing and expectations” are the two most important things in business.
Sitting in Dell’s sunny conference room at Internet City, Michael Collins, vice president & general manager of Dell Emerging Markets, defends the company he helped setup in the Middle East 10 years ago.
“It is a misconception that Dell is lagging. Remember that as far as 28 years ago, Dell was a frontrunner in many areas, including introducing low cost products that made IT accessible to people. If we happen to be late to the market with something, it’s only because our focus is on the customer and not always timing. Managing customer concern on data and security is a priority.”
Looking out into the Sheikh Zayed Road traffic he adds, “Our focus has shifted, it’s different now. We are looking to expand and have therefore made 20 acquisitions in the last three years.”
Collins left Paris, where he worked for rival IBM, to establish and expand Dell’s Middle East business. “I was employee number four here, and now we’ve grown to 150 people,” he says beaming.
He fast recognised that MENA customers are not much different from global customers. “They want to leapfrog the rest of the world and are keen on the latest technology. Forthcoming with their needs, they also make quick buying decisions. ” Realising that people – employees or customers – are most important to business, Collins ditched the doorknob polishing management style and sunk his teeth into the market by aligning the organisation to customers.
“We distinguished ourselves by offering customers efficient service and good infrastructure.” By bringing Dell products to market early, with the same value proposition and brand, Collins leveraged Dell’s core competence, especially enterprise products with bespoke solutions.
He grew the business from approximately $100 million to more than $900 million, prior to business segmentation at the end of 2008. The following year, Collins took responsibility for the commercial business across EMEA Emerging Markets, and the team exited FY11 with a 33 per cent growth in revenue, driven by a 39 per cent growth in solution revenue.
This by itself is quite a testimony to Collin’s leadership. “The trick is to always behave like a small business. Be paranoid, focus on detail, make quick decisions and, most importantly, treat the business as your own.”
And what according to him defines success? His piercing blue eyes take on a steely gaze as he elaborates that “the true mark of success is when you leave and the business still grows; it shows you have set up the right establishment.”
This comes from building capability around diversity, “People are our biggest investment. We hire the best, provide them a fast-paced environment for growth, give them equal opportunity and training, and make them proud to be working for Dell. Retention is most important and most of our employees stay with us for almost eight to nine years.”
Going forward Dell will continue its active effort in social media – “we monitor conversations in 16 languages and reach seven million customers” – while also focusing on CSR, the new mantra for all corporates, though Collins claims that “Dell will be first to market in reducing power consumption.”
“Dell will remain at number one or two in most markets,” he ends optimistically, patting the back of a smiling employee.