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Dell Foundation Exec Shares Secrets to Getting BIG Results

Micheal and Susan Dell Foundation
Getting to meet Janet Mountain

Janet Mountain, Executive Director of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, knows a thing or two about creating change that solves long-standing problems.

At the Carolina Women in Business Conference at UNC at Chapel Hill, Janet shared these guidelines:

1 – Use your imagination to create change. Specifically, never under-estimate the power of a made-up number.

When Janet was an executive at the Dell Corp., the company and her division had fallen far behind the competition. Their product (which once dominated the market) now served only one-third of the market share. Things needed to turn-around.

As the division‘s new leader, Janet began by asking her team to imagine Dell had 2/3 of the market share instead of one third. What would that look like? Could her team create financial projections that reflected this?

There was lots of resistance and push-back to getting people to actually put numbers on paper.

Once they had that one PowerPoint slide with a statistical graph showing two-thirds market share, people started coming up with great ideas of how to actually make it happen.

They saw where they could get traction and began working toward this end goal of two-thirds market share.

Soon they started to make their quarterly projections, but as it turned out, their initial numbers of how they would get there were completely off. BUT, in three years they had re-captured 2/3 market share.

Envisioning the goal was critical to achieving the end result. The accuracy of those initial numbers in the end did not matter. What mattered was engaging people’s minds to strive for a future goal.

More recently, the Dell Foundation started the Dell Scholars program for low-income high school students wanting to go to college in the US.

Statistically, only twenty percent of this demographic will graduate from college in six years, but the Foundation picked an arbitrary 85% graduation rate for their scholars. Everyone, the staff, the students, and their families, embraced this goal, and through trial and error worked to support it.

The Dell Scholars graduation rate is now 85% and people from all over the world want to know how they achieved it! #PoweroftheMadeUpNumber

2 – Invest in Your People (not talking about $)

While at the Dell Corp., Janet lost three key leaders on her team just as the division was hitting its stride. All had good reasons for leaving, but she wondered why they left at the same time. Upon reflection, she came to realize she had been focused on keeping them in the jobs and roles they were in (because that was good for her), instead of genuinely helping them grow into new roles they were interested in. This was an expensive lesson.

As a leader, it isn’t all about you. It must be about your people – because without your team and your external partners, you won’t meet your goals.

Janet used social media as a measure for her change in focus by making 80% of her posts positive images about others, achieving goals together, and 20% or less about her own actions.

When telling stories, headlining the team and your partners can result in big benefits for you and your enterprise. The return is well worth the investment.

3 – Inspire Others

It is impossible to inspire others if you are not ‘all in.’

Marking time is wasting time.

People model what they see in their leaders. Be the role model for everyone you touch. People know if you are giving it your all and staying positive in front of challenges, or if you are distracted and frustrated.

To be a strong and inspirational role model requires transparency and honesty. Give candid, supportive feedback.

Resentments can grow very fast in a team. Don’t be afraid to address issues directly with honesty and compassion.

Manipulation may score short-term gains, but it won’t work in the long run.

Janet reminds us that two-thirds of the world’s seven billion people live on $2 a day. Chances are you have it really good by comparison. Your life and work are meaningful. Treat them and your colleagues with the respect they so deeply deserve.

Janet’s not-so-secret keys to a flourishing enterprise?

  • Set BIG goals with aspirational numbers.
  • Showcase your team and partners.
  • Be inspirational.


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