Equity Exec: Microsoft Investment Could Derail Dell's Enterprise Plans


A big investment in Dell by Microsoft could jeopardize Dell's enterprise focus, according to one private equity executive.

Michael Carter, managing director of The Musser Group, a Wayne, Pa.-based equity capital firm and CEO of BizEquity.com, a website that helps businesses determine their financial value, noted Microsoft and Silver Lake, Dell's reported primary financier in a proposed leveraged buyout that could top $20 billion, have both been successful in other investments, but this one has more complicated implications.

"It seems if Microsoft participates, it's going to happen," Carter said, noting that the timing of a buyout is favorable for Dell right now.

[Related: 6 Reasons Dell Should Go Private]

"You have the banks starting to lend again. You have the tremendous track record of Silver Lake with their past transactions. With Seagate, they did pretty well, and with other firms, they've done extremely well. Combine that with a low interest environment, and it's a recipe for success for at least getting the transaction completed," Carter said.

But, both Microsoft and Dell face hurdles of becoming too entwined as Wintel partners, Carter added.

"If you close your eyes, it could be 2002 again," he said.

Both companies have to avoid a deal not being viewed as backwards looking because the biggest common denominator between them is the Wintel platform, Carter said. Most technology vendors are focusing more on mobile and big data solutions.

Certainly, being perceived as a PC-focused company would be a step back for Dell, which has made several acquisitions over the last couple years with a much-touted shift toward enterprise and data center solutions. That should continue to be Dell's strategy even with Microsoft on board, Carter said.

"Look at two of their last large acquisitions: Perot Data Systems and a storage software company [SonicWall]. They're trying to differentiate and not just be a device company. It's almost a hedge to their historic core business by partnering with Microsoft," he said.

Meanwhile, other PC vendors are left to figure out how a Microsoft investment with Dell would impact their relationships with the software giant. HP declined to comment regarding a Microsoft investment in Dell, and other PC vendors could not be reached for immediate comment.

As a private company, Dell wouldn't have to be a "slave to quarterly reporting," which could make them more nimble as a technology innovator, but it could also prevent "transformational acquisitions" for Dell too, Carter said, noting that Dell had been rumored for much of 2012 to purchase Research In Motion and its BlackBerry business.

"By going private, that will make it much harder to do an acquisition like RIM," Carter said. "Does that slow down Dell's transition from a fourth [wave company] to a fifth wave because they have to double down on their historic Wintel value chain?"

PUBLISHED JAN. 23, 2013