A Soothing Presence At Dell?

To some, Michael Dell's May 9 decision to share CEO duties with Motorola veteran Morton Topfer seems the perfect corner-office marriage. A manufacturing whiz, Topfer helped Motorola's mobile-radio unit thrive. And Dell, the 29-year-old personal-computer wunderkind, draws praise for being that rare breed of entrepreneur who knows his limitations. Indeed, Topfer will join a spate of big-company executives hired in the past 18 months to help Dell control his company's growth; it lost $35.7 million last year, even as sales ballooned 30%, to $2.8 billion.

Still, things may not be so clear-cut when Topfer reports for work on June 1. Insiders doubt Dell is ready to give up day-to-day control--despite urging from board members that he focus on strategy. Instead, Dell had granted partial power to a string of would-be operations chiefs, none of whom has lasted long.

Now, it's Topfer's turn. He says that he's aware of Dell's stormy past--but has nonetheless bought a home near Dell Computer's Austin (Tex.) headquarters. "I truly believe Michael wants to cut down on the turbulence," he says. Maybe so. Dell could do with some stability.

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