Michael Dell's bid to take his company private is finally complete. But now that the deal's done, what will Dell do to compete?
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Dell on Tuesday announced that founder and CEO Michael Dell and investment firm Silver Lake Partners have completed their acquisition of the company.
The leveraged buyout has finally been consummated after months of squabbling between Dell and a group of high-profile investors led by Carl Icahn, who maintained shareholders were offered an unfair deal. Approved by shareholders on Sept. 12, the $24.9 billion deal will pay out $13.75 per share plus a special dividend of 13 cents per share.
With the deal done, Michael Dell can now reshape the company without being subjected to quarterly scrutiny from Wall Street, and without the cash flow complexities raised by stock buybacks and dividend payments. Dell is trying to transform the company, which made its name with built-to-order PCs, into a software and services player that can compete with the likes of IBM and HP.
The CEO said last December that the company had successfully reinvented itself as an end-to-end enterprise services company. The PC market continued to unravel faster than anyone anticipated, however, and Windows 8 did little to help. With its primary revenue stream shrinking, Dell's ability to invest in competitive new products appeared in jeopardy, and by February, Dell and Silver Lake had stated their intention to take the company private.
The initial offer of $24.4 billion, or $13.65 per share, raised the ire of investors such as Icahn, who contended that CEO Dell was attempting to cheat investors out of future profit by snatching up the company at a low point. The pressure forced Dell and Silver Lake to up the ante, including negotiating a change in investor voting procedures, before winning shareholder approval.
Icahn's theatrics played out publicly, with the activist investor using Twitter and other outlets to throw barbs at Dell. For his part, the CEO remained mostly quiet as the buyout proceedings dragged on. Tightlipped Dell executives projected a "business as usual" attitude as they introduced new enterprise products throughout the spring.
Once the world's largest PC maker, Dell debuted new business-oriented laptops and Ultrabooks in August and has indicated it will continue to produce PCs. The company's PC sales have fared better than those of many competitors in recent quarters -- but the numbers were likely inflated by businesses moving off of Windows XP, and by aggressive pricing that valued market share over profit margin. PC revenue might have once paid the R&D bills necessary for Dell to enter new markets, but that's clearly no longer the case.
Dell took some by surprise this fall when it announced its inexpensive but attractively equipped Venue tablets for Android and Windows 8.1. Like HP and Microsoft, Dell was blindsided by the shift toward mobile devices. A foothold in the tablet market could go a long way to easing the company's PC-related pains.
The company is also making headway with next-gen data center technologies, such as its 64-bit ARM-based hyperscale server, a version of which is being demonstrated at this week's TechCon conference in Silicon Valley.
Even in areas of growth, though, Dell faces tough competition; its ARM servers face HP's similar Project Moonshot, for example. Dell's customers and observers should expect to learn more about the company's strategy in December at Dell World, where Michael Dell will address attendees as head of the newly private company.
Server Market SplitsvilleJust because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.
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