By Brenon Daly
After a tortuous, acrimonious and sometimes litigious seven-month process, Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) shareholders today approved the proposed $24.6bn take-private of the IT vendor. Now comes the hard part for the folks behind the third-largest tech leveraged buyout (LBO) in history: actually changing the trajectory at Dell.
We say that because the LBO doesn't actually change much at the company. For the most part, the LBO is a financial event, rather than a strategic one. As a private company, Dell is simply going to continue plodding along its already planned transformation from 'box maker' to (ideally) a strategic supplier of IT products and services.
To be clear, however, this is not a new development at Dell. The handful of priorities that it has highlighted for its life as a private company - such as expanding its enterprise business, pushing further into emerging markets and redoubling its commitment to its sales channel - are all ones that it has put forward to shareholders since at least 2008. Dell would counter that its new ownership structure, with chief executive Michael Dell owning three-quarters of the company, will allow them to move quicker on that strategy.
That may be so, but we might suggest that it skims over the difficulties for any 110,000-employee company (public or private) to transform itself. After all, Dell has been steadily and consciously looking beyond its PC and laptop business for nearly the past half-decade, with limited success. In fiscal 2008, that segment contributed 61% of total Dell revenue, but that portion has only dropped to about 54% now.
And that's despite spending more on M&A than it ever had in its history. Since 2006, the company has averaged about five acquisitions per year, according to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase. Altogether, it has spent more than $12bn to get into new markets, including storage (EqualLogic, Compellent), services (Perot Systems), networking (Force10) and security (SonicWALL, SecureWorks). It's also relevant to note for the soon-to-be-private Dell that shareholders footed the bill for that shopping spree.
Yet even as Dell has added all those new businesses - to say nothing of the collective billions of dollars in revenue from the acquired companies - it has not been able to grow. In fact, as the IT vendor gets set to step off the Nasdaq and go behind closed doors, it is going to be smaller and less profitable than it was before it kicked off its multibillion-dollar M&A program.