Dell in Rare Feat as PC Speech Gets Investor Cheers

Michael Dell this week accomplished a rare feat in the era of the smartphone: He drew applause after a speech on the future of personal computers.

Dell spoke at the annual meeting of Silver Lake Management LLC, which joined with him to take private the PC maker he founded in 1984, according to attendees who declined to be identified because the event was private. Dell, 48, was the surprise speaker at the dinner hosted by the private-equity firm at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Manhattan on Tuesday, the first day of the firm’s two-day meeting for investors, or limited partners.

Dell, who addressed about 300 investors on the condition that he not be asked about the $24.4 billion leveraged buyout of his company, said PCs will remain critical for businesses around the world, according to attendees. The view undercuts reports of record declines in global industry sales, which in part prompted Blackstone Group LP’s April 18 decision to drop plans to bid for Dell Inc. Blackstone also cited the company’s “rapidly eroding financial profile” as a reason for pulling out.

Silver Lake’s leveraged buyout of Dell is an opportunity for investors to profit, said a limited partner who attended the dinner and asked not to be identified. The investor said he believes, like Michael Dell, that the world still needs personal computers because software runs on hardware.

Michael Dell teamed up with Menlo Park, California-based Silver Lake to take the company private in the largest buyout of a technology company since the financial crisis. They offered $13.65 per share in a deal that would require founder Dell to roll over his stake in the company to help finance the transaction.

Blackstone Interest

Blackstone in March expressed interest in acquiring a controlling stake in Dell for $14.25 a share, before dropping out a month later as global PC sales tumbled. Technology research firm IDC said in an April 10 report that PC sales sank 14 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter. Blackstone also cited other concerns. At the end of March, Dell lowered its forecast for operating income for the current year to $3 billion, a 19 percent drop from the previous forecast made around the time of Blackstone’s initial overture in March.

The founder, chief executive officer and largest shareholder of Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, also spoke on Tuesday about the importance for its customer base of information-technology security, the promise of cloud computing and his firm’s plans to develop more products to meet those needs. Dell has invested in some of these areas, with acquisitions last year such as network-security company SonicWall Inc., and Wyse Technology Inc., which makes desktop devices for cloud computing.

Employee Letter

A representative for Silver Lake declined to comment. David Frink, a spokesman for Dell, said that “Dell’s speech reflects the company’s strategy,” while declining to comment further because he wasn’t at the dinner.

Michael Dell’s speech at Silver Lake’s dinner was echoed in a letter he sent to employees earlier that day after meeting the company’s teams in Austin, Round Rock, Oklahoma City and Nashville.

“There is still opportunity in PCs,” Dell wrote in the letter, which was disclosed in an April 23 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “The global PC installed base is roughly a billion-and-a-half, and millions of people in emerging markets continue to come online every week. Overwhelmingly, PCs are still how business gets done around the world. We are fine tuning and investing in our business to innovate and compete more aggressively where growth is happening.”

Company Executives

This was the first time Silver Lake held its annual meeting in New York, which was also attended by executives of some of its portfolio companies. They include Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Chief Financial Officer Joseph Tsai, and Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment LLC’s co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell.

Last year, Silver Lake convened its investors in Pasadena, California, where Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer was the guest speaker.

The fact that Silver Lake this month raised a $10.3 billion fund, the largest ever dedicated to buyouts of technology companies, is a sign of investors’ confidence in the firm, said David Fann, CEO of San Diego-based TorreyCove Capital Partners, which advises institutional investors on private equity.

Silver Lake gathered money for the fund “in a difficult fundraising environment,” Fann said. “This speaks volumes about the respect the firm commands from limited partners.”

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