Dell president says company is soul searching

Dell Computer is trying to replace its once soaring stock price with company pride in a campaign to improve morale despite the sour economy, President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Rollins said Thursday at a speech hosted by the Churchill Club.

Dell is working to champion corporate ethics, leadership and community programs to help offset the negative effects of a flat stock price and corporate scandals that have hurt some technology companies.

"We have set a goal to become more than a cash or profit engine," Rollins said. "We want to evolve to the next level to be a truly great company."

Achieving that apparently requires weeding out employees who engage in questionable behavior. Dell has started a "hotline" so that workers can report others and as a result some people have been fired, Rollins said. "If you see something that doesn't work in our company, you have to work to fix it," he said. "If you don't, you are part of the problem."

Dell's meteoric rise to the top of the computing industry did not give the company much time to reflect on larger, communal issues, he said. This has posed a problem because Dell can no longer reward employees as effectively with stock or boost their spirits with the benefits that come from once-astronomical growth.

"We want (stock) options and compensation to be empowering and exciting, but what we know is that every industry in every country goes through cycles," Rollins said. "In those times, you have to have something else that retains people and makes them feel good about the company."

An internal study showed that 50 percent of Dell employees would leave the company for equal or better pay and that number has only improved marginally over time, Rollins said. To help turn this around, Dell is asking its employees to take on a greater sense of responsibility at the company. Rollins is encouraging employees to concentrate on being loyal to customers, working as a team and keeping corporate ethics as a focus.

Dell is also promoting its efforts to recycle old PCs and donate computers to disadvantaged groups, Rollins said.

These projects, however, have not been viewed favorably by some organizations. Earlier this year, activists at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas protested Dell's association with UNICOR, a federally run company that uses prison labor to recycle electronics and manufacture other products. The protesters charged that the prisoners face risks from being exposed to lead and other toxins.

Some people have also been offended by the slogan "Factories with Fences" of Federal Prison Industries, Inc., UNICOR's parent company. Federal Prison Industries generated US$584 million in revenue for 2001, paying its 22,000 person work force between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour, according to the company's financial statements.

Only a small portion of UNICOR's business comes from working with Dell, Rollins said, noting that he does not see a problem with using prison labor to help recycle PCs.

"We don't think that is something we should be embarrassed about," he told IDG News Service after his speech. "These are people that need to have jobs and training like everyone else."

An avid reader, Rollins attributed his desire to boost Dell's corporate spirit to his recent study of U.S history and the Roman Empire, prompting him to inspire workers to focus on civic responsibility and corporate goals.

"We aspire to have all our employees be citizens of this great, global company," he said. "We want every employee to feel as accountable as I feel or Michael feels."

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