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How the women of Dell are humanizing the tech giant

Rob Enderle | Dec. 17, 2012
At this week's Dell World, the company proved to be unique among tech companies in several ways. CEO Michael Dell shared the stage with his smart, sharp wife, while entrepreneur-in-residence Ingrid Vanderveldt shared some valuable lessons for startups. (Oh, and Bill Clinton was there.)

Dell is one of the few companies from the golden era of technology still run by its founder. However, like most technology companies, over time, Dell (the company) has lost its small-company charm and become largely another faceless giant.

While this has been an unfortunate change, two women at Dell are taking the lead in reversing this outcome. One is Michael Dell's wife Susan and the other is the company' entrepreneur-in-residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt. Together, they are Dell's Angels.

OK, I clearly watched too much Charlie's Angels when I was younger, but the point is that their unusual efforts of these people are giving Dell its friendly face again. In the process, the Dell brand is becoming far friendlier and far more strategic.

Bill Clinton Hints at Susan Dell's Role, Influence

While I've followed and been impressed by Vanderveldt for some time, Susan Dell's efforts weren't as visible until Bill Clinton personally thanked her on stage for significantly helping with his efforts to fix the world.

Clinton, like Jimmy Carter before him, has been a huge force for good after he got out of politics. Some may recall that had his programs remained intact until now,we'd likely be out of debt, or nearly out, rather than at record national debt levels. The reason I know this is that Clinton pointed this out several times during his fascinating keynote presentation at Dell World 2012.

It was clear that Susan Dell was instrumental in getting Clinton to Dell World. Of the events I've attended from the Tier 1 solutions providers, the former president is by far the most powerful of the guest speakers. While this may seem like a little thing--when Dell can clearly eclipse its older and generally larger competitors in anything--it's big. Dell basically threw down the gauntlet with regard to sustainable energy and smart technology-meaning, technology used to make children more competitive, businesses more successful and the environment safer and better to live in.

Tying the Dell brand to this effort helps the brand to appear more attractive to both consumer and corporate buyers. In addition, since Clinton is arguably the most respected of the living former U.S. presidents, the connection to Dell and the obvious affinity that Clinton and Michael Dell held for each other was a powerful, subtle image-enhancing tool for the company.

Meanwhile, I've often felt that CEOs with sharp spouses don't use those assets very well. By ignoring them, they often end up having issues such as Mark Hurd at Hewlett-Packard, where they forming unfortunate attachments that can damage the company and their own happiness. Watching Michael and Susan Dell collaborate, on the other hand, warms my heart and, I think, should be a best practice. More CEOs should attempt to get their spouses involved in the business. This effort reflects well on Michael and Susan Dell, and Dell as a company, and I hope other CEOs learn from it.


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