RIP Dell, and now BMC Software. Both companies were born in Texas in the 1980s and died in 2013. Cause of death: crushed by the public markets. Dell and BMC passed away after a long battle to reinvent themselves in the era of cloud computing and mobile technology. Companies without the legacy baggage they so desperately tried to forget survive them. Memorial service scheduled for whenever the private equity guys show up. No flowers.
Writing an obituary for these two once formidable technology giants seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. But the current shift occurring in the technology industry from PCs and client/server software to cloud computing and mobile devices is very clear. Amazon.com is reportedly bringing in $2 billion in annual revenue from its cloud computing services, a market BMC doesn’t play in; and as more and more computing is done on tablets and cell phones, Dell has struggled to keep up.
But attempting to shed old businesses and retool for the new era of computing was apparently not possible under the scrutiny of the public markets, as both companies went private. Dell and BMC claimed that having to answer to impatient shareholders, SEC disclosures and nagging investors relations people led them to be unable to make good decisions for the longer-term.
In one of many statements about trying to save the company, BMC CEO Bob Beauchamp said:
“BMC believes the opportunity to become a private company will provide additional flexibility and position us to invest more strategically to drive powerful innovation and deliver cutting edge customer solutions.”
Blah, blah, blah…
BMC and Dell apparently saw ending their company’s publicly traded status as the crucial step to survival. Once private they could layoff hundreds and hundreds of employees and whack revenue, hoping to emerge smaller, more nimble and positioned for the new era, something the public markets would not tolerate.
What they failed to consider was the fact that technology companies are about much more than technology – a problem that blinds many tech firms. Just like any other business, they are about the people. And people jump from sinking ships, as fast as they can.
Dell and BMC were unable to retain the talented staff they had and found it impossible to attract new talent amid increasing competition.
When Mark Twain read his own obituary he cabled the Associated Press to tell them: “The report of my death was an exaggeration”. There are plenty of people at Dell and BMC ready to give it the kiss of life. But for now these companies lie in a coma; the prognosis for a recovery in the short term looks bleak. And having delivered over two decades of remarkable innovation, the chances of these companies reviving in time to help deliver a third are receding every day.