Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dell Talk

Yesterday, I met Michael Dell in the flesh. Unfortunately it wasn't up close and personal. I suppose that privilege belonged to Ms Glenda Chong of CNA (Channel News Asia), who did the interviewing of the famous IT entrepreneur who revolutionised the PC industry by innovating a successful model that got the PCs to the users in any configuration they wanted and bypassing the retailers in the process. Dell is probably one of those successful practitioners of Supply Chain Management and Customer Relationship Management models that are bandied about so often nowadays in the IT industry, and indeed in the wider business community.

Dell was speaking at the IDA Distinguished Speaker Forum at the Suntec City Convention Centre. It is probably one of the last major events there before Suntec City gives it soul and body completely over to the IMF/World Bank Meeting early next month. There was almost full attendance at the forum. While Michael Dell didn't say anything that had not already been said or written about, there is always the novelty of seeing him speak 'live' instead of just reading about him.

I had to wait more than an hour after turning up and registering for the event. The organiser (the IDA) was a kiasu lot. They sent confirmation e-mails to registrants like me with the instruction that registration will start at 2pm. Instead, it started at 2.15pm. While coffee and tea (and plain water for the health conscious) was served, you had to find your own conversation while waiting for the talk to start, which eventually it did, ONE hour later.

Question time is always an interesting time because it departs from the prepared script. You never know what will happen or even amuse you. Even the interview segment can be stage managed. There was a constant stream of people asking questions but I remember two 'questioners' very clearly. One was an RJC boy who challenged Dell on the issue of 'choice' based on what he had read elsewhere where somebody had written that choice was not necessarily a good thing. This is academia going head-on with the practitioner. Who do you think will be more convincing? Dell has built a very successful business based on choices to the consumer.

The second 'seeker' was more of a joker. This guy, who said he was from the HDB, was invited to ask his question. And all he asked Michael was for a joke! I'd imagine that every civil servant in Singapore (including those in the IDA) must have wanted to find a hole to crawl into then. What would Michael now think about the quality of government in Singapore, when all a government official would ask for in a serious forum such as this, is a joke? I almost expected the organisers to throw him out of the room, but in deference to Dell, and our foreign friends, they let him be.

Some might say the HDB joker provided some form of comic relief, but to me, he wasted people's time and kept other people from asking more weighty questions. It is not often that one can engage Dell in person. Glenda was strict with her guillotine (except that she didn't apply it to herself). She 'privileged' herself by asking the last question, after stopping the questionning by saying that Dell had to attend to other appointments. I could still see a number of raised hands, but they were to be denied. I think many of them must have left the forum cursing and swearing at the HDB joker. IDA should seriously consider banning people from the HDB from ever attending such events.

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