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Michael Dell: We 'can execute better'

In an exclusive interview, the newly reinstated CEO reveals to Fortune's David Kirkpatrick his strategy for restoring the computer retailer's battered reputation.

By David Kirkpatrick, Fortune senior editor

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- In an interview this afternoon after he resumed the role of CEO at the company he founded, Michael Dell said he was excited about taking charge, and that we should expect to see a lot of changes in the company in the "months and quarters" ahead.

While Dell didn't directly criticize former CEO Kevin Rollins, he did say "we have a lot of hidden assets in the company that have not been coming out." He also said "Dell (Charts) can execute better than it has recently." This week, the company announced it would not meet analysts' targets for its fiscal fourth quarter.

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Michael Dell is back at the helm of the company he founded.

In Davos at the World Economic Forum last week, several noted that Dell seemed to be in a particularly good mood. When told that today, the newly-reinstated CEO only laughed.

Dell insisted that "Kevin continues to be a friend and did great things for the company in the last 10 years, but now it's time for a change."

It's hard not to hear that as an acknowledgement that Dell asked for Rollins to leave, something most close observers of the company assume. When asked how long the change had been in the works, Dell would only say, "Not going to go there. Nice try."

The CEO emphasized that there were more costs that can be driven out of Dell's business. He also suggested the company would move in a more "solutions-oriented" direction, presumably to address continuing concerns about customer service, which by Dell's own admission has lagged in the last year or so.

But when invited to say that there would be concrete changes in product design and marketing - things that many observers believe are desperately needed at Dell - he did not. Arch-rival Hewlett-Packard (Charts) has surged ahead in market share, for the first time becoming the clear leader worldwide, partly on the strength of aggressive new product design that goes beyond simply competing on commodity PCs, and on a seductive and elegant advertising campaign that has won awards for its creativity. Dell would say only: "You might see more investments in intellectual property that can drive differentiation."

"Dell is in a time when we really need to unify the leadership structure, simplify it, focus it, and really execute," the CEO said. Dell's executive ranks have been thinned dramatically lately. In December CFO Jim Schneider resigned, and in early January Joe Marengi, who heads the company's business in the Americas, announced he would resign in March.  Top of page