When we remodeled our homes some years back, we decided that the most expensive words known to man were, “While we’re at it. . . .” In doing the research for our book, though, we realized that the words, “Well, we have to do something,” have caused far more damage.
Executives convince themselves that, no matter what, they have to achieve some stock-price goal, some market-share goal, some profit goal. So, they lay out a strategy that might work and roll the dice, even when the odds are stacked against them. In other words, they take what they think is their best bet even though an objective review would show they aren’t making a good bet. Often, they lose.
Sometimes, they lose billions—making us feel a bit better about those bad thousand-dollar decisions we made while remodeling.
There are some curious ideas being bruited about in the computer industry these days. It seems that cash is burning a hole in the pockets of healthy companies such as IBM and Cisco. Rather than have the cash sit around earning basically nothing at today’s low interest rates, the companies have decided to start looking for acquisitions. While that can be a splendid strategy in the right circumstances, the combinations being discussed don’t make much sense. Shareholders would be better off if the companies followed Oracle’s example and declared a dividend.
As reports surface that Dell is considering entering the market for smart phones, we think the company is smart to not just hunker down and hope that problems in its personal-computer business go away. They won’t go away, not any time soon.
The whole industry is under such pressure that even Intel and Microsoft are feeling it. And, before demand plunged, the industry was moving away from Dell. It had thrived in a time when people mostly used desktop computers and purchased them based on how much computing power they provided for a given price. Now that laptops are ascendant, customers are much more concerned with how the computers look, with how the keyboard feels and with other subjective measures. But Dell barely has a presence in the retail channel, so customers have little opportunity to try Dell’s laptops. Besides, Dell has never shown great strength in the kind of design that catches a consumer’s attention the way Apple does.
Which brings us to the Red Queen–and why the move into smart phones is likely to be a bad idea.