By now you’ve heard that Dell is going private, and is no longer a publicly traded company. Michael Dell’s infamous quote has been slung all around the web as a Nelson-esque “ha-ha” moment. Much of what I have read has been fairly wrong-headed, because most assume this is an admission of failure, but it’s not.
In fact, IPO-ing, or being public traded, is not a hallmark of success — it just so happens that in this tech-crazed world we often view a company only as successful when they actually IPO. There are thousands and thousands of companies that are exceedingly successful and yet still private. To name a few: Enterprise Rent-a-Car, SC Johnson & Son, Hilton Worldwide, and Levi Strauss & Co. I don’t think you could accurately point at any of those companies and say they are a failure because they are not public.
You take a company public if you need a huge cash influx to grow — that’s why Facebook went public, and likely why Dell went public. If you want to expand, and expanding in your business costs millions (or billions) which won’t be recouped for years, then an IPO is one of your only options. So Dell going private isn’t a sign of failure, it’s a sign of change.
The worst-case scenario for Michael Dell would have occurred if an activist shareholder had gotten into the mix. Dell would have faced the prospect of being kicked out of the company that bears his name. I’m certain this is why Dell went private. Dell, Silver Lake, and Microsoft get a company that pumps out enough cash to keep all parties happy, while Michael Dell shields himself from being berated by analysts, investors, and the media. Best of all, he gets to keep his company.
I think this explains the situation pretty well. Dell was facing a group of investors that didn’t believe in the path he was steering the company too, and even though the company is still making money, the stock was dropping. We see this type of investor uncertainty with investors of Apple, Inc., because despite record sales, and profits, Apple stock drops in price.
If I ran a company I’d try to avoid taking it public as long as possible. Public companies are expected to increase profits every quarter or face dire punishment, and eventually this all but requires cutting corners—and once you start doing that, it’s all but impossible to stop.
Now, taking a company private doesn’t mean you have no one to answer to, but it does mean that idiot “analysts” are not muddying the water. Effectively Dell can now take more risks and make bolder moves to try and reposition the company, or they can do nothing and bleed the company dry — both of which would not have been possible if the company is publicly traded. For further proof of this, look no further than HP and their revolving door of CEOs.
Dell has a very tough road ahead. The company faces an extended period of uncertainty and transition that will not be good for its customers. And with a significant debt load, Dell’s ability to invest in new products and services will be extremely limited. Leveraged buyouts tend to leave existing customers and innovation at the curb. We believe Dell’s customers will now be eager to explore alternatives, and HP plans to take full advantage of that opportunity
All in all, this move is a smart one. It’s not an admission of failure, it’s actually a good sign. It shows that Dell knows he needs to do something that he would get fired for doing if he stayed a publicly traded company — that should encourage any PC user.
While we are at it, on the topic of Microsoft’s investment pissing off other PC Windows OEM vendors, I call bullshit. (Keep in mind I own like 14 shares of Microsoft, BIAS!)
What’s HP, Lenovo, Acer, and others to do if they are mad at Microsoft?
There are only two commercially viable PC operating systems to sell to people: Mac and Windows. Ubuntu is great, but selling it in place of Windows is a ticket to losing billions. It’s been tried before on select systems, and guess what, commercial failure. As Linux geeks say (yearly), next year will be the year of Linux.
So ignore all the talk about backlash towards Microsoft for investing — if anything Microsoft can spin it by saying they are helping an OEM partner just like they would help any other OEM partner.