0:01NARRATOR: Luminaries– talking to the brightest minds in tech.
0:05MICHAEL DELL: We always believed that, if we built the right technology, we could amplify and enhance and enable human progress. And when I look at what lies ahead, I realize that we’ve really just barely begun.
0:22 NARRATOR: Your hosts are Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr.
0:26 [MUSIC PLAYING]
0:30 MARK SCHAEFER: Welcome, everyone, one and all, to another episode of Luminaries. This is the podcast where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. We have discussions about digital transformation — transforming our business, our careers, even our lives. This is Mark Schaefer with my co-host, the mesmerizing Douglas Karr. How you doing, Doug?
1:00 DOUGLAS KARR: I’m doing well. I hope that I can maintain a mesmerizing conversation today.
1:06 MARK SCHAEFER: You don’t have to work at it.
1:08 DOUGLAS KARR: Yeah, that’s true.
1:09 MARK SCHAEFER: You’re naturally mesmeri– you know what? I am transfixed by your beard. That is the thing that makes you most mesmerizing. And I know this is an audio show so you can’t really see Doug’s beard,
1:23 MARK SCHAEFER: But go to the show notes and just take a look. And ladies and gentlemen, I think you will also be transfixed by his beard.
1:31 DOUGLAS KARR: It’s just to cover my chins. That’s all.
1:33 MARK SCHAEFER: Well, we are delighted to welcome our special guest today, Kirk Schell. Kirk is a visionary leader who is literally leading an effort to change the way we see the world. I know that sounds a little mysterious, but I think all will become clear soon enough. Welcome, Kirk.
1:55 KIRK SCHELL: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to join you guys.
1:57 MARK SCHAEFER: You know, Kirk, this is going to be the most unusual question I’ve ever started a podcast with. But some people learned that I was going to be talking to you, and they said, you have to ask Kirk about his dog.
2:11 What is the deal with your dog?
2:13 KIRK SCHELL: Well, my dog’s a bit of a local celebrity. In our neighborhood, I was joking around the other day that, when I walked the dog I’m sort of just like a handler because everybody in the neighborhood knows the dog by name, but they don’t really know me. So I love the anonymity because he takes all the heat from everybody in the neighborhood. But my wife says he looks like the Brad Pitt of dogs. So that’ll give some visual there.
2:35 And oddly enough, we took him with us to Shanghai when we did our first overseas assignment with Dell. And he’s about to go to Singapore. So he’s an international celebrity, not just local. So he’s got quite a following, especially in Asia.
2:49 MARK SCHAEFER: The Brad Pitt of dogs.
2:53 Well, take us back, Kirk. Tell us a little bit about your career and how you got to where you are today.
3:00 KIRK SCHELL: Sure, so my story’s a little bit of a Forrest Gump story in that I grew up on a farm in the middle of Ohio. So, you know, literally from about the time I was born until 18, really never left the state of Ohio, let alone did much internationally or things outside of that. So things were about to change in a big way for me when I was 18.
3:21 And when I went off to school, I was a Navy ROTC student. So the Navy paid for college. I was a mechanical engineer and then, right after I graduated, went into the US Navy Nuclear Power Program. So I had never seen the ocean– maybe one time– and I joined the Navy, which is a joke I’ll tell you how I told that later in my career.
3:41 So went from a mechanical engineer into the US Navy Nuclear Power Program and really had a wonderful career in the Navy, which spanned about seven years, and became a professional engineer in the Navy. I was in charge of reactor coolant chemistry and radiological control and then ran the power plant. So I did tests of our reactor plants and things like that. So that would become important, I guess, later in my career.
4:07 So my last two years in the Navy, I got to teach at the British Royal Naval College, which is the equivalent of Annapolis. We do an exchange program with BRNC. And I got to be the US officer there. So I taught leadership and navigation at the Royal Naval College, which was a wonderful job. And you can imagine all the fun of that.
4:31 And actually, it was my first overseas assignment. So even though England doesn’t sound very exotic now, in hindsight, it was a big trip for me and my wife. We’ve been married about 20 minutes and then went to England.
4:41 So after that, I went back to graduate school to kind of rejoin the workforce and went to Michigan. After Michigan, went directly to Dell. So I’ve only had two employers– the US Navy and Dell. And at Dell, I’ve been here now 20 years, and pretty much all that time has been in product development and most of it in commercial product development in Austin, Taipei, Shanghai, and now Singapore.
5:07 So I’ve had a really wonderful career at Dell that’s been sponsored by lots of people above me in the food chain that I can’t thank all of them now. But certainly Jeff Clark and Sam Burd have been mentors and a big part of my career. And this latest move to Singapore is just another step for me but a fun one as I get the build out, not only my expertise in engineering and tests and marketing and all things that I need to know to do my job, but also just the cultural aspects of getting to be in Austin and Taipei and Shanghai and now Singapore.
5:41 MARK SCHAEFER: And now why Singapore? What’s magical about Singapore? Is that a center of innovation or operations for Dell?
5:49 KIRK SCHELL: Yeah, in my 20 years, we’ve continued to invest in global sites to get the best people in the world to do product development. So, as we built out our expertise, of course, we started out in Austin. But, if you look today, we’re trying to find the best people we can around the world in Silicon Valley and Boston and Austin and Taipei and Shanghai and Bangalore and Singapore and so on.
6:12 Singapore is important for Dell because we set up our software in peripherals and displays business there. We have a longstanding set of employees there who have been doing great work for a long time, primarily focused on displays, but around that includes we’ve done projectors, we’ve done imaging, we’ve done lots of cool peripherals there. And I guess, later on, we’ll get into all the innovation that the teams have been able to drive.
6:36 DOUGLAS KARR: Wow. That is quite a history. And Kirk, Bravo Zulu. I was a Navy veteran as well. I was enlisted in the Navy–
6:44 KIRK SCHELL: Outstanding.
6:45 DOUGLAS KARR: –and actually attended Navy Nuclear Power School but got in a little bit of trouble before reactor school and had to go to the fleet. So–
6:55 KIRK SCHELL: Any time someone’s even a perspective fellow nuke, that’s well received. And good thing you weren’t in the Air Force or the Army or I would have to make a joke. So I think we were on better footing.
7:06 MARK SCHAEFER: Absolutely. And just great to see. I tell everybody, it’s great to see all of these Navy vets that are running these companies and, again, just an honor to speak to you.
7:16 KIRK SCHELL: Thank you.
7:17 MARK SCHAEFER: I know that your primary focus is on display technology, and that focus is extremely customer driven at Dell. Can you give us some examples of how customers are driving display innovation?
7:29 KIRK SCHELL: Yeah, I think one thing to remember, you know, if you think about the company, is that we’re trying to always be the best IT infrastructure partner that we can be. So what that means is, whether you’re talking about data center, products, or storage or security or client, PCs, workstations, desktops, notebooks, or displays, we want to make sure we’re the best possible partner. So there’s a big aspect of that that involves our global sales coverage and being able to operate in over a couple hundred countries and provide service in all those places. So I don’t want to lose that in the value proposition to commercial customers because global footprint and the ability to service and support in a bunch of countries is tricky business.
8:16 So when we do that, then our promise to customers is, OK, we’re a tier-one IT partner, but how do we get better? And so the get better part is– be the best in every category you play in. And so in displays, that means innovation, and it means being the best. And so we’re the number one displays manufacturer in the world. And we’ve done that with innovations, and if you look at how you build a display, obviously, in resolution, we were the first 8K monitor company.
8:49 We have what we call infinity edge bezels or zero-bezel design. So if you know our XPS 13 notebook, it’s the smallest notebook in the world because it’s able to use these infinity edges. We do the same thing in our ultra sharp brand of displays. So we call them four-side narrow bezel. We’ve innovated around curve displays. So if you’ve ever seen a curved display, you’ll want one. And then more and more as we think about how do we improve color with HDR displays and representation of both professional content but also consumer content with games and film and things like that.
9:26 MARK SCHAEFER: So you’ve talked a lot about innovation. And when I think about where the world is going, I’ve got this image in my mind, Kirk. It’s the Minority Report. So how much of the future is going to be like the Minority Report? Are you working on haptic type of displays? What’s your view of where all this is heading? Is it going to be like displays everywhere? What’s your view of the future of displays?
10:06 KIRK SCHELL: Sure. Well, I think, if you think about productivity and you talk to CIOs today about their role, they’re all trying to understand how to make technology work for them as a competitive advantage. So if you think about our workstation product line, we already have significant business with folks who do oil and gas or geology or media and entertainment or things like that. All of those customers are looking at using enhanced types of visual depiction of data to improve the product.
10:39 So I was at Sundance Film Festival last year, and I sat on a panel. And I was kind of blown away by how many people ask questions about mixed reality for media and entertainment. So if you go that direction first, you think, well, in order to be able to shoot media and entertainment content– film and video and documentary– you will need not only 8K cameras but then ways to shoot things in 3-D such that you can capture the image from all the angles required.
11:10 Now that not only requires an expensive cameras, but it also requires workstations on set so that you can render images and capture the video and edit live and set things up for the director so he or she can look at the shot and ensure that they’re getting what they want. And then, as you can imagine, on set, to be able to look at an 8K video, you’ve got to have the highest resolution big display or displays as possible so that color representation and how you want the shot to actually look is captured correctly.
11:41 And then on the consumption end, all that stuff is equally important as a director spent months and lots of money building a production. How do you represent that perfectly for the user, whether they’re consuming or they’re taking that content and then working on it further?
11:57 So with the displays portfolio, today that means flat and curved, large, high-resolution displays. In the future, that will mean you larger pieces of glass that are used for lots of people to look at and smaller personal pieces of glass that give you, not only perfect representation, but over time, a more immersive way to interact with that.
12:20 And so, if you go to the other side of what you described, mixed reality is front of mind with other CIOs who are thinking, how do I create tools for simulation, whether that’s for medical or manufacturing or engineering. Imagine you’re an expert and you know how to fix a piece of equipment, but that piece of equipment is on the other side of the Earth. How do you get someone with the right mixed-reality headset to go look at the actual thing? And then either you talk them through the repair, or you use some sort of AI or drone or robot arm to actually do the procedure from where you are. All that stuff is being thought through by experts in our industry, and all of them are hopefully being aided by innovations from our technology.
13:04 MARK SCHAEFER: That’s so cool. And I’m so jealous you got to go to Sundance.
13:07 DOUGLAS KARR: Wow.
13:07 NARRATOR: That must been a cool experience.
13:09 KIRK SCHELL: I drop that every time I can. Yeah.
13:12 MARK SCHAEFER: Did you anybody famous?
13:14 KIRK SCHELL: True story. So I was there, and I had to do a little bit of work. And the last day, I was sort of done. So I stopped in this place on the main drag like, I think, called Murphy’s or something to have a beer. And next thing I know, I’m talking to all these B-list actors from Guardians of the Galaxy. So I–
13:30 DOUGLAS KARR: Oh, nice.
13:32 KIRK SCHELL: And what I didn’t realize was my credentials, I guess, said film production on them. So the only reason these people were talking to me is because they thought I had some kind of an in in film. And hopefully they’re not listening to this because I don’t.
13:46 But they picked up the tab. They were nice people. So it was a fun afternoon.
13:49 MARK SCHAFER: That’s cool. That’s cool.
13:52 DOUGLAS KARR: Now I’m going to sound like a total geek because I don’t want to talk about Sundance. I want to talk about displays. And I have on my wish list that 38-inch curved monitor. So hopefully that’s coming soon. But I absolutely love your displays.
14:10 One of the interesting things, when I was reading, was that there are very industry-specific display applications that are driving innovation in this industry as well. How do configurations vary by business type, Kirk?
14:24 KIRK SCHELL: Sure. Well, I mean, if you think about the way we do product development anywhere, I would tell our marketing and strategy and advanced technology people that we want to be the best at understanding how people work and how they want to work. And so that means getting on site and actually looking at how people’s workflow is dictated and how it actually happens.
14:46 And so we have ethnography people and factors engineers and people like that who actually go out and just watch. And so they’ll come back and say, hey, we were on a trading floor on Wall Street, and we saw that people had four displays all sort of bolted onto a sort of cumbersome mount, so they could get as much information in front of the trader as possible to act quickly and hopefully make money.
15:08 And we went back and proposed to them that we build them a large display without all those frames of then use an independent set of video inputs so that you can get multiple inputs of data feeds into the display on a 43-inch and soon to be larger type display. So it’s much more space efficient. You don’t have all that plastic in between the displays, which is wasted space. And the trader can kind of seamlessly then move from one data source to another to better understand what’s going on.
15:37 And you can see these curved displays are becoming more and more popular. We had a major bank out with us in Singapore two weeks ago. We’re helping them design their London trade floor. And that will be comprised of a large number of curved displays that’ll stack on top of each other– again, just trying to get as much information in front of the person as possible so that they can act on it.
16:01 In a world where we’re going to be collecting more and more data, whether you’re talking about IoT or sensors or whatever, more and more data will require more simplistic ways to show it to people so they can make decisions. And so glass and even the ergonomics and the mechanical mounts and the implementation of glass and displays will be critical in this because the amount of information that people want to consume is ever increasing.
16:31 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, so interesting. I just had this image in my head as you’re talking about these mounted displays at banks. And it’s funny because, as we were beginning our discussion, I was thinking, OK, displays. These are things I use around my home and in my office.
16:52 But really, when you get into it, the types of things you’re talking about are just huge multimedia experiences, right, as well as something that we might use in a practical application in our homes. I mean, I’ve seen Dell technology used in like corporate lobbies and so forth to display multimedia presentations. That’s got to be a really interesting and growing area for you.
17:21 KIRK SCHELL: Yeah, again, if you go back to the discussion with IT buyers or IT professionals or CIOs, they’re even redesigning their workspace. So if you think about a new office, the questions they ask us are, with an evolving workforce or people who are changing the way they work, how should we design our offices because we’d like to decrease our office footprint. We would like to allow more people to work from home. We would like to have more versatile space. We’d like to be more connected, and we’d like to collaborate better.
17:53 So when we sit down with companies to have that discussion, that means conference rooms now are using large, wirelessly connected Dell conference room displays as big as 86 inches. That means hotel cubes that can work for anybody. So there’s a multi-monitor set-up that you can plug in your notebook when you’re in the office, and that gives you a lot of real estate to be as productive as you can be. It means digital signage, which is what you discussed, which allows you to use a thin client or essentially a database from the server room that pushes information out to the employees on a number of things.
18:30 And all of that requires different displays, different connectivity, docking and so forth. And it really, really requires a site design, which is something that’s been fun for us as people think about Dell is not only a leader in clients and a leader in the enterprise and certainly leader in displays but now as an advisor helping them understand how to make their employees more productive inside of the budgets they have.
18:56 MARK SCHAEFER: I’d like to switch it up a little bit. You mentioned earlier in our discussion that you actually taught leadership. I think this is just an extraordinary opportunity to explore that idea a little bit at how leadership is changing in this world. When I was in graduate school, I actually took a class in leadership studies. And I thought, this is going to be my easy blow-off class for the semester. And it actually ended up being one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken and kind of started a lifelong interest in the subject.
19:33 So I’m wondering, as someone who started their career grounded in the military and what leadership means in the military, and now here you are sitting on top of this amazing global business with operations and customers all around the world, what’s remained the same and what has changed as the pace of technology has changed and this distributed remote work force around the world has changed? What’s remained the same in terms of your principles of leadership? And what’s changed for you?
20:16 KIRK SCHELL: That’s a great question. I mean, if you go all the way back to me teaching leadership at probably 25 years old, and I was probably learning as much as I was teaching at that point. So that was a great point in my life to sit back and reflect on what are leadership principles, and how do you actually get a group of people to trust you enough to follow you in whatever endeavor you’re in.
20:38 So if you flashback to that class, back then the Royal Navy contracted to teach students from around the world. So I would have about 30 people in the room. Some of them were English. Some of them were Welsh. Some of them were Australians. Some of them were from the United Arab Emirates. Some were from Africa. I think I even had a student from Fiji.
20:59 In a very short period of time, not only did I have to get good at teaching, I also had to watch the faces of people from multiple cultures as they tried to understand what I was saying with an American accent and so forth. So that alone was a teaching moment for me just to try to relay any facts, let alone leadership.
21:17 And then as we got a little more into the course and we learned to trust each other a little bit and we’ve developed a relationship, it came down to a simple question, which was, what about you would make someone else trust you enough or emulate your behavior enough that they might follow you? And we would spend a lot of time exploring that with the kids and say, look, it has to be authentic, and it has to be you. So if you find yourself copying somebody or you find yourself copying Lord Nelson, the greatest Naval leader in Royal Navy history, you’re not Lord Nelson, and it will seem fake, and everybody will understand it quickly.
21:52 So from there, this notion of how do you motivate people, how do you create vision, and how do you get them to really trust you in a way that they would follow you? That’s the same, right? Whatever job you’re in, big or small, whatever industry you’re in, I think that’s the same. I think the thing that changes as you start working now in larger groups and multinational groups and in a world now that can communicate 24 hours a day, I would tell people that I work with or I mentor, I say, remember, the leadership principles have to be consistent and the same. And they have to be authentic to you. That has to be unchanging. And you have to decide how you want to implement that in your organizations.
22:34 But the things that I think I’ve had to improve on and I think others would need to improve on is, how do you do that in multiple cultures because one leadership style or one communication style or even one personality may or may not allow you to be effective in other cultures. I learned a lot in Shanghai when I had that job about how do you become an effective leader in a culture that’s different than your own.
22:57 And then the other one is really, how do you how do you scale communication across a global organization because, if there are just five of us in a room, if we’re in a squad or we’re on a ship and we have a group of 20 people, we can all muster up, and I can talk to all of you, and I can send you a memo, and you have to read it. And that’s relatively straightforward.
23:15 But now, if we’re in 20 countries, and we’re in every time zone, and we’re communicating around the clock, how do you create punchy, succinct, easy-to-understand, consistent, communication that still creates a vision for an organization that may not ever be together maybe ever or maybe only a couple of times a year? So I think as those enterprises get bigger and more multicultural, it puts stress on your ability to communicate.
23:41 Then I suppose the final thought would be you realize that creating an organization and creating people who have skills that you don’t have becomes the most important in your career. It allows you then to reach these different parts of the world and these different cultures in a way that you probably can’t do on your own. So you learn a lot about team building and talent management. And if there’s anything good about getting old, it’s you’re able to admit things you’re not great at or things you need help with. And so you go find people who are the best at those things to help you out.
24:13 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, that’s awesome. Thanks, Kirk.
24:16 DOUGLAS KARR: And there’s really a synergy there. I don’t mean to take this back to Dell and wax poetic about technology, but there really is a synergy there with supplying your teams with the right tools as well. I thought it was really interesting that one of the reports that you guys had said that 42% of millennials would quit a job over technology, and 82% of them said technology influences the job. And compound that with the bottoming prices of displays and the efficiency gained, and technology really does play a role in how companies wish to get these teams in remote workforces and everything to collaborate, correct?
24:58 KIRK SCHELL: Well, yeah, and, I mean, especially as we think about bringing people into the workforce now, the technology that you have is a major influence on whether or not they will take the job, which has changed quite a bit over the years. And if I take a step back and just look at our mission, if we’re trying to make workforces as productive as we can, that means every day, when you come to work, you have professional tools that are the best that are available.
25:24 So certainly, in the displays business, that means, if you’re doing medical research, having the highest visual acuity and highest resolution, of course, is critical because you want to be able to see everything that’s being done in the background or any images that you took. Or if you’re doing CAD and you’re doing engineering design, being able to manipulate a part or a piece of design and being able to see it exactly as it will be built, of course, is critical.
25:50 So yeah, I think, for us, the never-ending task for our product development teams is to build the best professional tools possible. And that has to be reflective of the use case. So if you think about our detachable roadmap or our workstation roadmap or our micro projectors or you name it, they all start with unique use cases of a person who’s working at home, in an airport, on the go, what we would call personas, which is maybe a little geeked out for this. But we look at these personas and say, with what we understand about the workflow, how do we make this person as productive as possible? And displays are a huge part of that because imagine you have all this graphics capability, all this processing capability, all this network bandwidth, but if you can’t display it accurately and you can’t display it at high resolution in an immersive environment, you just can’t take as much advantage of all that technology as you would want.
26:51 DOUGLAS KARR: And the ROI on it is, years ago, you used to buy a display and hope that it lasted 10 years. Now, if you bought one every year, there’s a return on investment on that productivity, right?
27:02 KIRK SCHELL: Yeah, and certainly, if you think about Dell– Michael likes to say, “We’re number one in everything, all in one place,” and with that comes a lot of scale. So we believe that our ability to democratize technology, to get things into the hands of people is a major– it’s a cultural core thing for Dell. And it’s something that we want to continue to deliver.
27:23 So just as you said, the ability to deliver better and better things– in this case, resolution, size of panel, curved displays, thin bezels, beautiful design– at better and better prices is kind of the value proposition here. So more people can actually take advantage of it because we don’t want great tools just to be in the hands of the wealthy or in Western culture or in highest margin businesses. We would want everybody around the world to have equal access to technology so that they can be the best person they can, whether it’s in their life or in their job.
27:56 So this is just an extension of what Michael started over 30 years ago. And culturally for us, this is really at our core. I’ve had people have headhunters call me and say, you’ve been with this company 20 years, what’s wrong with you? And then the real answer is, I mean, I stay here because I love the people, and I think what we do matters. And I see a real integrity to the culture from Michael on down that what we do is really meant to make people more productive and enhance what people can do in their everyday lives while taking advantage of their own talent.
28:32 MARK SCHAEFER: Well, Kirk, this has really been such an amazing conversation. The time has just flown by. I want to thank you for sharing your wisdom today. I want to thank you for sharing your really inspiring ideas around leadership, what matters, and also this gift that you gave to me and all of our listeners because now we are all one degree of separation from Guardians of the Galaxy.
29:00 And that’s pretty darn–
29:01 KIRK SCHELL: Exactly. Exactly.
29:03 MARK SCHAEFER: That’s pretty darn cool. I didn’t expect that.
29:06 I did not expect that going into this episode today.
29:09 KIRK SCHELL: Well, you always have to have like something up your sleeve, right? Come on, it can’t just be super straightforward.
29:15 MARK SCHAEFER: So anyway, thank you so much. I’ve just absolutely learned so much from you today. And I want to thank all of our listeners. We never take you for granted. We know spending your time with us is really a gift to us. And we never take that for granted. So thank you.
29:32 This is Mark Schaefer, and on behalf of myself, Doug Karr, and everyone behind the scenes at Luminaries, we will see you next time.
29:40 [MUSIC PLAYING]
29:43 NARRATOR: Luminaries– talking to the brightest minds in tech– a podcast series from Dell Technologies.