Sometimes even the smartest people make really dumb decisions.

Spinning the Globe

Websites are global simply by the nature of the internet. But what if your business were truly global? 64 countries, 14 primary languages, and a bazillion pages. And if several different teams had access to the PUBLISH LIVE button, well that’s when the fun begins. The bigger the budget, the larger the media coverage, and the more pointed the emails and IMs become in the hours leading up to the “LAUNCH.”

As the dust begins to settle after the first coordinated “global launch” the executives roam the halls saying aloud, “We will get to the bottom of the mistakes later, for now, we just need to fix the site.” But even after weeks of wrangling with language barriers, political silos, closed meetings, and post-mortems, the teams are still far from coordinated. As the next global launch nears, some of the heads may have changed, but the lack of process, and more importantly lack of trust between the teams, is raising the tempers and escalation levels again.

With billions of dollars transacting hourly, the stakes are as high as it gets.  And sometimes intelligence and the best of intentions will get you executed. And as the ecommerce machine rolls on your job is only as safe as your next launch. Sometimes it pays to duck and cover.

“Sometimes even the smartest people make really dumb decisions.” Mr. McElhenney chronicles Dell’s disastrous remaking of themselves in 2007 when high-powered marketing executive, Mark Jarvis, was brought in to reboot everything about Dell’s brand. Within a year Mr. Jarvis and his “people” would rip the company apart from the inside. 

I was hired a few weeks after Mark Jarvis began and was working in the Global Online Division at Dell. I dealt with the fallout of his team’s actions both inside the company and with outside partners. All of Dell’s marketing agencies were sent cease and desist letters in the weeks following the Y&R victory for Dell’s entire business. The new guys burned every bridge on their way to creating a completely new agency, Enfatico! The stories and currency of these events reverberate across the web. With humor and great hubris, Mr. McElhenney details how Enfactico came to implode.

Ultimately, Michael Dell and the board of directors ousted the RE-DO crew before Christmas of 2009. I left Dell shortly thereafter along when half of the Global Online Team was outsourced to contractors in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

  1. Architects of the Internet
  2. An Innovative Technology Finds a Client (McLane Foods presentation and fiasco)
  3. Laptops Were Pretty Bad (How John Medica pushed the keyboard back and gave us the modern laptop)
  4. Noise-Cancelling Headphones Inside the Cubefarm
  5. Apple Demo Leads to Biggest Breakthrough Ever
  6. DMW – Powering Dell’s Remote Salesforce
  7. At Comdex with Dell’s VIPs (What about multimedia?)
  8. A Launch and Unravelling
  9. Copying Apple is a Strategy
  10. Fear is a Poor Motivator
  11. Strategic Planning Quarter by Quarter
  12. Selling VOSTRO and the “We Believe” Story
  13. A Laptop Priced So Low We Were Losing Money On Each Sale
  14. A Green Initiative
  15. The Re-Do Crew: A Reboot of Dell’s Innovation and Design Leadership
  16. Enfatico – the Fiasco as Casey Jones Fires All Marketing Agencies (Fire everyone, we’ll figure it out later)
  17. Lost in Translation (Dell’s largest business division REL (big vertical channels) and the Enfatico Failure
  18. Y&R Wins and Wants to Start a New Austin Agency (despite owning three agencies in Austin, Texas)
  19. The Sweet Taste of Failure (Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Jones are fired and paid off)
  20. Dell Drops Green (it was a marketing strategy, not an ongoing pillar of Dell’s business model)
  21. The Greenest Company on the Planet (is going to be Apple) Drops the Initiative
  22. The Low-Cost Leader Loses to Even Lower-Cost Manufacturers
  23. Boxes vs. Services (Dell buys Perot Systems – the EDS spinoff)
  24. Still Standing (Dell and HP for the win)
  25. My Last Job At Dell Lasted Two Weeks (The GPU is king – nVidia gets the jump)
  26. The Rise of Data Centers, Hyperscalers, and ChatGPT

As one of the early innovators, I, John McElhenney helped architect Dell 1.0, brought DMW (Dell Multimedia Works) to life, and continues to drive innovation in tech marketing and leadership. Mr. McElhenney is the Chief Marketing Officer for an *ai* enablement firm. His career spans pre-internet interactivity via CD-Roms and tradeshow presentations to the cutting edge of the cloud. To understand where to go from here, with AI, VR, AR, and LLMs, we can review and learn from the mistakes of the past two decades of innovation.

At the annual Comdex meeting of Dell’s VIP customers, Mr. McElhenney’s team had created an interactive presentation for Michael Dell. At the end of the presentation, Mr. Dell took questions from the crowd. I asked Mr. Dell, “When is Dell going to put CD-Roms and Speakers in their PCs?” Mr. Dell answered, “When we see a demand for those features, we will add them.” One year later, Dell’s laptops and desktops had become MPCs (MultiMediaPC)

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Dell’s Ups and Downs – NYTIMES 2010

In 2009, Dell acquired Perot Systems (EDS) for $3.9 billion