Table: "I'm Going Full Blast"

1984

In a university dorm room, Michael Dell hits on a revolutionary idea: Sell PCs over the phone, rather than build a costly sales team or pay a middleman a distribution fee.

1988

With great prices and quick delivery, Dell's sales hit $159 million. The efficient model enables 30% gross margins, making it easy for Dell to undercut rivals who enjoy 40%-plus margins. Dell goes public, raising $30 million.

1991

Compaq and IBM move to squelch the upstart--or so they think. By creating new units with pared-down staffing and R&D, they narrowed Dell's gross margins lead. It isn't enough.

1993

Dell launches brash ads against Texas rival Compaq, calling its laptop prices "the lap of lunacy." CEO Dell predicts its 4.1% U.S. market share will one day hit 18%. It sounded audacious, but they hit it in 1999.

1995

The company revamps to reach new efficiency highs. By combining its build-to-order system and tightening its supply chain, Dell cuts inventory levels from 40 days to 17. That helps Dell slash gross margins to 22%.

1997

Dell starts its assault on the server business with models costing one-third as much as rivals. And Dell jumps on the Net. By April, it's doing $1 million in sales daily online--with 30 people, vs. the 700 it would have needed to man the phones.

1999

Thanks to the Internet boom, Dell's sales zoom to $18 billion, and stellar execution drives inventory to record lows. The result: record profits. Dell doubles its server share to 13%, sapping rivals' main source of profits.

2001

PC sales hit a wall, so Dell launches a price war. It works. Dell becomes the No. 1 PC seller, with a 13% worldwide share. Dell's margins get crimped, yet it chalks up $361 million in profits thanks to big cost cuts, while rivals lose $1.1 billion.

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