Q&A: Steve Felice

Steve Felice

Keeping their entrepreneurial zeal is one of the trickiest things for large companies to achieve. EY’s Americas Area Managing Partner Steve Howe sat down with Steve Felice, Dell president and chief commercial officer, to learn the secrets of Dell’s innovative strategies as a multi-billion dollar technology giant.

This Q&A is part of Igniting innovation: how hot companies grow from within, where you’ll find more examples of how companies foster creativity on their home turf.

Q: The goal of intrapreneurship is not simply to avoid losing your entrepreneurial zeal, but to sustain market leadership. As they get larger, how can companies continue acting as if they’re small and nimble?

A: Stay close to your customers and never stop listening and adapting based on what you hear.

One of the things we’ve done at Dell is to form distinct customer business units to get us closer to our customers and their unique needs. Each has its own global P&L and budgets for R&D, product development, industry solutions, marketing, and sales and support. This enables each leader and team to make the right decisions on behalf of the customer — whether it is a large hospital group, global 1000 company or small business.

Q: Could you talk about a challenging period that forced Dell to become more entrepreneurial to keep its leading position?

A: Dell experienced exponential growth quite rapidly. In 1984, Dell was PCs Limited, run out of a University of Texas dorm room. We grew fast, but we worked to not lose our entrepreneurial roots, spirit and can-do attitude.

In the recent past, we’ve focused on moving from a product company to services to solutions that meet our customers’ diverse and changing needs. We "incubate" businesses inside of Dell. For example, at the end of last year, we created the Communications Solutions Group to invest in and drive our strategy around the next phase of mobility.

Another example is systems management through our acquisition of KACE, which helps companies manage their technology assets as they grow, from tracking capacity usage to life-cycle management to application deployment, as well as security.

Q: What can governments do to encourage innovation in new and established companies?

A: There is a lot that governments can do to support business growth — from making credit available to smaller companies to tax structures that drive business growth to support in employee development and networking. Government can encourage big businesses to partner with smaller companies to become joint suppliers to government agencies, healthcare, education and corporations.

Through our Supplier Diversity program, we spend more than US$1 billion annually with small and diverse suppliers in the United States and have formed strategic partnerships with many small businesses for IT contracting.

Q: People always talk about encouraging corporate entrepreneurship by giving employees the freedom to fail. Gifford Pinchot said that intrapreneurs should "come to work each day willing to be fired." How realistic is it to expect someone to adopt this attitude? And is it necessary?

A: Pinchot means, "Don’t be afraid to take risks." The current economic climate won’t curtail innovation — which is where intrapreneurs live — it will inspire it. And that spirit is part of our culture, purpose and values at Dell. We ask ourselves, "Is there a new or better way?"

For example, Michael Dell tells our online teams he wants experiments or tests run on Dell.com each day. The point is that experimentation is important — as is the rapid correction of mistakes. "Just try something," he says. "The market will tell you if it’s a good idea or not."