After several years of rapid growth and change, Round Rock-based Dell Technologies is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, Chuck Whitten, one of the company’s co-chief operating officers, said Dell’s ambitions are bigger than ever.
“Our business is perfectly positioned for what’s happening in technology right now. We have big ambitions to be the most essential technology company of the data era,” Whitten said. “We’re uniquely positioned to help solve customers’ challenges in a multi-cloud world and then the PC, frequently called dead over its life, continues to be this essential productivity device.”
But no matter how much Dell Technologies grows and changes, Central Texas remains its foundation, Whitten said.
“We’re committed to Central Texas and Austin. We were born in Austin, and it continues to be the beating heart of the company with an enormous amount of our employee base,” Whitten said. “We’re proud to be a Texas company.”
The company, which was famously founded in 1984 by Michael Dell in a University of Texas dorm room, has grown into one of the world’s largest technology companies and is one of the largest private employers in the Austin metro area. Dell has about 13,000 employees in the Austin metro area, and about 16,000 in Texas. The company has about 133,000 global employees.
Whitten joined Dell Technologies as co-chief operating officer in June 2021. He had previously worked as a consultant for Dell’s leadership team through his previous employer, Bain and Company, where he oversaw the Texas region as a managing partner. As the child of two University of Texas grads — Whitten says he grew up in a “burnt orange household” — who then went on to Rice University in Houston, the transition back to Texan was natural in many ways, he said.
These days, Whitten said, Dell Technologies is looking to tackle a number of challenges, including cloud, remote work, and its PC business. Dell has said it is investing in innovation in a number of areas, including the edge computing market, the 5G sector and telecommunications.
The American-Statesman recently talked with Whitten about what he’s seen in his time with Dell, what he sees on the horizon for the company, and how the Austin area fits into those plans. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Statesman: What does your day-to-day job look like as chief operating officer?
Whitten: I always refer to a chief operating officer as being a balanced diet. One of the things that I think distinguishes Dell is we’re a very customer-centric place and so I spend a lot of time talking to customers and trying to understand their unsolved problems.
One of the things Michael (Dell) always talks about is our business only really exists to solve the unsolved problems of technology. If we do that, we will get to exist for another 40 years. That’s really where I spend a lot of my time. Then the portfolio of responsibilities ranges from how we create the best possible team member experience that goes hand in hand with creating a culture that can win for customers. How do we solve the pressing challenges of the business today? That can range from the supply chain, to how we deliver the quarter, to how we navigate macroeconomic uncertainty.
What have been your big takeaways from the past year as you moved into this role?
Although I knew a lot about the business, having worked for decades with the company, the thing I think you get a profound appreciation for when you come inside of the company is the culture. It’s a hard-charging, customer-centric culture. Our team will do amazing things when they have a customer problem in front of them, but it is also people-centric. To me, that has been a really remarkable balance. Not many companies have that posture. You observe it when you’re outside the company, but you have to live the culture and I’ve lived it and really, really loved it in the last year. I also think I’m an optimist by nature, and I’m a technology optimist. Getting inside our business and seeing the market position, the way customers respond, to sell and invite Dell in to advise on whatever their most pressing technical challenges are, and architectural challenges in technology. It’s truly a trusted adviser relationship.
Your focus includes emerging tech. What trends are you keeping an eye out for over the next few years at Dell or otherwise?
Multi-cloud (the strategy of using multiple cloud-computing services from more than one provider) is a really profound shift in the way the world works. It creates a lot of complexities for companies. Companies have arrived at multi-cloud by default. They’ve woken up and they’ve got multiple public clouds, they’ve got on-premise data centers, and it doesn’t work well together. That data is siloed. But if you pull back, it can be an incredibly strategic way for businesses to operate. We strongly believe it’s the future of architecture.
If you’re a (chief innovation officer), if you’re an IT decision-maker, if you’re a CEO, you want to access all of the innovation of technology to bring to bear on your business. That means all of the innovations of multiple public clouds. But you have to grapple with the real challenges of security and cost and latency and so you’re going to have on-premise clouds, the edge is exploding, real-time autonomous experiences that you and I have when we go into a grocery store these days. It requires technology closer to where data is created. Those are the problems that we’re excited about solving…. Edge is profound and what’s going to happen there as data explodes out there in the real world and needs to be processed. That’s going to drive so much growth in our business.
The coroanvirs pandemic helped accelerate remote work and that has brought technology changes with it. Is technology where it needs to be to adapt to these changes?
Every company is trying to figure that out for itself. I don’t think there’s a single answer, but I would say we’ve had maybe the most profound restructuring of the way it works since maybe World War II. Many companies that rushed to just enable their workforce are now saying, ‘OK, how do we do hybrid work?’
I think every company is in a very different position on how they think through that. At Dell, we believe work is an outcome, not a time or place. We lead with flexibility. We approached it by offering more options, not less when team members decide how they want to work. We’ve been hybrid for many, many years so that works with our culture. But we know that ultimately, talent today wants to choose a work style that fits their personal and their professional needs.
We don’t see the world going back to being in the office five days a week, though every single company is having to think through the answer that works with their business and their culture. I think the most important thing is that no matter how you’re choosing to approach hybrid work, it’s to recognize what’s happened in the last few years, expectations of employees have gone up. Whether you’re at home, you’re in an office, or you’re in a coffee shop, team members expect no false trade-offs, a seamless experience and connectivity cloud services. The ability to collaborate, the ability to be productive anywhere, that bar has really risen. That’s a good thing for us as a leader in commercial PCs and the ecosystem that sits around it.
How does the Austin area fit into Dell’s continually growing global business?
Austin is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the world… and that means it’s an important continual source of talent for us and that that growth comes with an obligation for us to contribute to our city and community and Austin has been our home, and in many ways is still the beating heart of the company globally.
You see us in different ways around the city. Whether it’s powering Austin City Limits or the new Moody Center, the race track at Formula One. It’s also important in the ways some of our technology is being used. Something that we’re proud of and excited about is the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Our high-performance computers power innovation, including researching the factors that influence pregnancy and related complications. discovering how COVID-19 spread and other impactful innovation and research driven by our technology.
We are committed to Austin. It’s a source of talent. It’s a source of innovation. It’s our home and we’re excited to continue to make it our home and continue our commitment to the area.
How are you staying competitive in Austin’s fast-growing tech hub?
The battle for talent is fierce everywhere. Like any challenge in our business, we focus on what we control. That starts first with continuing to build and deliver a differentiated culture, that’s marked with amazing flexibility with hybrid work but also a commitment to diversity and inclusion which is critical to any business trying to grow its talent base.
I think if you ask a Dell employee, given the breadth of our business and the types of jobs, you can have a long and attractive career path, doing different things inside our business. When we think about the employee value proposition, it’s never one thing. It’s never just your compensation. It’s never just your benefits. It’s never just your career path. It’s your learning. It’s all those things that come into play. We really spent a lot of time thinking about culture and the total employee value proposition, and realizing the war for talent is only going to continue to get more difficult, and certainly in places like Austin, which is growing rapidly and is a sought-after place for all businesses.