Today, the official word came down: Dell is buying EMC for $US67 billion in the biggest tech merger ever.
For Dell, the goal here is to use EMC’s storage know-how to diversify its business, as a shrinking PC market threatens the company’s future.
The deal was led by Dell founder and CEO Michael S. Dell personally, alongside private equity firm Silver Lake.
The funny part here is that back in 2002, this exact same deal almost happened for the exact same reason — but Michael Dell shut down any EMC acquisition talks before they could happen because he didn’t want to “bet the company.”
This story comes from a 2011 profile of Michael Dell in Fortune.
Apparently in the early 2000s, top Dell executives, including former President and CEO Kevin Rollins, were concerned that Dell’s fortunes were too heavily banked on the PC industry.
At the time, Dell’s model revolved on its economies of scale, squeezing every inch of efficiency it could out of the PC manufacturing process to sell custom computers at a high margin. Instead of innovating with new kinds of hardware, Dell just pumped out a lot of PCs, quickly.
Rollins suggested an acquisition of EMC, then worth $US16 billion, to add its enterprise storage business to Dell’s lineup and hedge against any kind of PC shakeup.
But Michael Dell was spooked. (He was technically no longer CEO of the company, but he still exerted a lot of influence at Dell.) But after a prior acquisition, ConvergeNet, hadn’t gone well in 1999, he was gun-shy about any new purchases — let alone one that would drastically change what Dell was all about.
Michael Dell’s big plan was to get into consumer electronics, instead.
But that didn’t really work out: Stuff like TVs and printers were already cheaply available when Dell got into the game, meaning that it’s time-tested approach of being cheap and fast didn’t really add anything. And because its model didn’t leave a lot of room for R&D, Dell couldn’t offer consumers anything that wasn’t already available elsewhere.
Fast forward a few years, and those Dell executives look downright prescient. Dell was left behind in a changing market. HP and IBM had invested in their enterprise services businesses, including storage, while Dell’s consumer electronics efforts had fallen flat.
Meanwhile, the commoditization of the PC and the entry of Asian market competitors like Asus and Lenovo meant that Dell’s price advantage was melting away. Plus, that lack of R&D meant that Dell was terminally late to mobile and tablets, since it was very much stuck in a PC-first mindset.
In 2012, Dell’s business was seriously lacking. In 2013, Dell and Silver Lake took the company private in the biggest-ever deal of its kind. And today, in 2015, Dell is snapping up EMC after all, for exactly the same reason — protection against a changing PC industry.
The real question is whether it’s too late. Or whether it would have been too late in 2002.
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