CELEBRITY BOOK REVIEW: Michael Dell on the Steve Jobs biography
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by Courtney Maum
I’m writing this in my stainless steel bathroom, No. 017. The one without the fax. Susan thinks I’m taking a shower. I don’t have much time.
It was a mistake for me to read the Steve Jobs biography. I got kind of boastful about it, especially in the office. I told everybody it would give me key insights into the competition. I may or may not have sent out a company wide email suggesting others read it. And then I started reading it. I must be ready when they ask.
In the preface to my own book on business management, I wrote, “you don’t have to be a genius or a visionary…to think unconventionally. You just need a framework and a dream.” And I really believed that. I continued to believe that right up until the point five minutes ago when I finished this darn book.
Listen, I know I’m a square. I look back on interviews I’ve done and I want to upchuck. A board member’s wife once said that I made her feel like I was about to wipe my shoes on the back of my pants whenever I talked to her. I have a fear of blushing. It makes things very hard.
It’s a mean world we live in, and I’m not a mean man. Journalists never seem to enjoy the things I tell them. They want to talk about my plane. You want to know where my favorite place is in Austin? It’s home, buddy, and I don’t see the problem with that, especially after reading how Steve treated his kids. When I got to the part about the way he was with Erin — how he kept delaying the father/daughter bonding trip he’d promised — I wanted to scoop that poor girl up and put her in our rec room to play Supercow with my children while I stood in the doorway with Susan in her running clothes, and smelled that great mix of her sweat and her deodorant, and looked on, and felt proud.
The world isn’t going to go anywhere if we rely on emotionally-based decisions. I’ve founded my entire corporate worldview on that. But there’s something about this book that gets you swept up into thinking that things matter. Not just the price of them, but the way they look and feel. I used to like the way my Inspiron felt thumping against my side as I walked across the tarmac, but now I just know I’m going to think it feels bulky. That it makes me look fat.
Do you know what it’s like to be Michael Dell in a Steve Jobs world? It’s giving a speech in a college auditorium called the Dell Computer Science Hall only to look out and see an Apple logo on every laptop in the crowd.
It’s coming to the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco to talk about opportunities in the PC industry only to answer question after question about Apple and Steve Jobs. It’s standing on the corner of 52nd and Lexington and hailing a cab that has Steve’s face on it. It is a world of such cabs.
It’s finding a Macbook under your youngest daughter’s bed pulsating with the telltale light of recent use. It’s crying when you read the last line from a dead man. It’s crying because you’ve never read a book that talks so much about men crying. And crying some more because you have never allowed yourself to be one of those men.
I used to be a really fun and crazy guy. At our first Dell Torch Event when we announced our investment in servers, I had a guy dress up as “Server Man” with a cape with a big ‘S’ and I ran into the auditorium carrying an Olympic size torch — lit! And I was the one who had the idea to write “Dell.com” on the bottom of all the signs for the men’s bathrooms in our first branch in Germany. That was really next-level stuff at the time. Oh, and I’ve given away over 1.2 billion dollars to charity. But apparently my legacy will be the time in 1997 when I was asked what I would do if I was Apple’s CEO and I responded wrong.
It’s not fair to make me feel like I’m not a creative thinker. One of our first factories was built in Limerick for Pete’s sake. Besides, if being a “genius” means I get to hold brainstorm sessions in public bathrooms while I wash my dirty feet, well then, I’m perfectly happy living in a Dell world. At least our citizens wear shoes.
I believe you can get ahead without being mean to people. I cannot fathom a world in which I broadcast the fact that I’m in love with two women posthumously, to my wife. Can you even imagine what it must be like for Laurene Powell to read that Steve called friends of his to ask if he was making the right choice marrying her? I can’t respect a man that goes back on his decisions. Why is everyone so in love with Steve Jobs?
It’s pretty clear by the middle of the book that Issacson himself fell prey to Steve’s “reality distortion field.” On page 374, he refers to Dell computers as “cheaply designed generic boxes.” There aren’t any quotes around it. This is what he thinks. Well excuse me if I happen to have heard of a couple of folks who can’t afford a five hundred dollar phone. Sorryif I had to use an unknown actor in our “Dell Dude” commercials because I don’t spend my time running around with Ridley Scott. By the way, that no-name actor was a really big thing for a while until he got arrested.
My life isn’t as easy as some people think, but as God is my witness, I’m not going to spend it terrified of a logo shaped like a fruit. Nor am I going to spend it apologizing because I’m not some mad genius. I happen to think our products are pretty great looking. I happen to treasure the time it takes my XPS 15 to boot up. Those twelve minutes are among the most peaceful and intimate moments of my day.
And for the record, I chose a blue for our brand logo called “Darkening Sky” not because I’m a pessimist, but because I wanted to remind myself that there is a beautiful blue day waiting on the other side of every awful night. And as I sit here writing on our discontinued tablet, naked and perspiring on this teak shower bench, I’m going to remind myself that there is not just one day after this one, but many, and that I’m still here to enjoy them. And also that I’ve got 23,000 factory workers depending on me in India. I’m just going to remind myself to keep it simple and stay focused. And then I’m going to erase everything I’ve written, go upstairs to my family, put on my game face, and attempt to live.
by Walter Isaacson
— Courtney Maum is a fiction writer based in between the Berkshires of Massachusetts and New York City. Her work has recently appeared in The Rumpus, Vol.1 “Sunday Stories”, Slice Magazine, Anderbo and others. A frequent reader at NY-based series and a Literary Death Match champion, she’s currently working on a collection of comic fiction. Find her on Twitter at @cmaum
Editor’s note: Any resemblances to actual celebrities — alive or dead — are miraculously coincidental. For more Celebrity Book Review, click here.