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Author: Don Obrien

Michael Dell learned these lessons from Steve Jobs and Bills Gates


The 10th anniversary of the death of legendary Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs on Tuesday brought a memorial from the company and a note of remembrance from current CEO Tim Cook. 

The day also saw the release of a new business memoir entitled, “Play Nice But Win,” from Dell Technologies (DELL) Chairman and CEO Michael Dell, a longtime rival of Jobs in the high-profile and high-stakes battle between the PC and the Mac.

But the competition hasn’t stopped Dell from admiring Jobs. In a new interview, Dell tells Yahoo Finance that as an aspiring business person he learned from the example of Jobs and former Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Bill Gates. 

While Dell acknowledges that Jobs and Gates are “very different people,” he says he enjoyed watching their careers play out. “It was fun to see both of their trajectories,” he adds.

At age 15, Dell met a then 25-year-old Jobs when he gave a speech to Dell’s Houston-based computer club. A few years later, in his dorm room at the University of Texas, Dell would launch PC’s Limited, the company that would later become Dell.

“Steve [Jobs] had this kind of incredible idealism, which turned out to be super powerful as he pursued various projects,” Dell says. 

In 1985, Jobs left Apple and put $12 million of his own money toward the launch of a computer and software company called NeXT, where he tried to convince Dell to use its operating system, Dell says.

“I got to know him better when he was at NeXT and he was trying to get us to work with his next operating system, after they decided to just be a software company,” Dell says. 

“You have to admire the idealism, really, that led to all of the incredible breakthroughs later on with the iPad and the iPhone,” Dell adds. “Many years later.” 

Apple CEO Steve Jobs poses with the new iPhone 4 during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, June 7, 2010.  REUTERS/Robert Galbraith  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCI TECH)

Apple CEO Steve Jobs poses with the new iPhone 4 during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SCI TECH)

A business partnership also brought Dell together with Gates, since many Dell PCs used Microsoft software. That partnership has persisted for decades, and expanded as recently as 2019.

The striking feature of Gates was his combination of technical smarts and business acumen, Dell said.

“Bill obviously [is] super smart, unbelievably technical, [and] very tenacious and determined, and persistent as a business person.” 

To be sure, both Jobs and Gates had their flaws. Critics of Jobs point to his treatment of his daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who recounted her memories of her father’s harsh words and frugality in a memoir released in 2018

Meanwhile, Gates carried on a personal relationship with now-deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Gates met with Epstein on numerous occasions beginning in 2011 — years after Epstein was convicted of a sex crime, The New York Times reported

“Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein and recognizes it was an error in judgment to do so,” Bridgitt Arnold, a spokeswoman for Gates, told the Times.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Dell said when he first got to know Jobs and Gates, Dell noted one characteristic he identified as something to avoid.

“They were both about 10 years older than than I am, and they weren’t married,” Dell says. “To me, I didn’t want to wake up and be 35 years old and not married — that would have been a very sad existence for me.”

“So, I wanted to get married, and did when I was 24,” Dell says. 

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