Who Can Build The Best Dell: Carl Icahn Or Michael Dell?


Most Dell channel partners are rooting for Michael Dell to retain management of the company. They foresee Michael Dell as causing the fewest waves and keeping the company on the right track.

"I can't see Carl Icahn running a major technology company," said Bob Hochmuth, executive vice president of sales at SLPowers, a Dell partner. "Michael Dell has shown leadership, knows his business, and knows the channel. That's what we need," he said.

That's not to say Michael Dell doesn't have his naysayers. A number of institutional shareholders including T. Rowe Price and private equity firm Blackstone have thrown their support behind Icahn.

Cindy Shaw, research analyst at Discern, doesn't think Dell can succeed with Michael Dell alone at the helm. "If you go up to bat and strike out three times, the odds are good you'll strike out the fourth time," Shaw said. Shaw points out that during his first turn as CEO, Dell typically had a seasoned executive as a mentor or co-CEO, and in the six years since he returned to the company as CEO, he has attempted several strategies that failed to prevent a decline in profits. The company needs leadership with expertise in turnarounds and transformations, Shaw said, skills she does not count among Michael Dell’s talents.

"Unlike IBM, with a successful track record of acquiring companies and integrating them into their business, Dell's track record is mixed," Shaw said. Dell spent $4.9 billion in 2012 acquiring seven companies, most notably software and services firm Quest Software. Now, the company has acknowledged a need to strengthen its enterprise sales and support capabilities to leverage its acquisitions.

Dell doesn't have a culture of innovation and Michael Dell is not the Mr. Fix-It Dell needs right now, she said. Shaw isn't alone.

The Carl Icahn Plan

It's less clear how Icahn or Southeastern Asset Management will implement their plans. Icahn has stated one of his first orders of business would be to oust Michael Dell from Dell's board and shake things up. Lessons gleaned from past Icahn investments in TWA, Dynegy and Motorola suggest that once Icahn and Southeastern Asset settle on a strategy, it will move quickly and could be far more disruptive to Dell than its founder Michael Dell.

NEXT: Icahn's Plan: Slash And Burn?