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For Michael Dell, it all seems so easy. He just makes good PCs cheaply and sells them like curbside hot dogs, from his hands straight to yours, fast, with whatever fixings you want.

The strategy is so simple and yet so effective. Consistently profitable, Dell Computer took in $47.3 billion last year, at the same time IBM sold off its PC business and Hewlett-Packard's PC margins slid below 1%. Meanwhile, in 18 months, Dell's printer line has already reached a third of the market share of HP, the industry leader. "Two years ago there were a lot of stories saying that Dell can't succeed in the printer business because we don't have retail stores," gloats Dell, 40. "Now people say, 'Wow, you should have done that five years ago."

His habit of thriving where others fail can also be seen in the huge new plant he's building in North Carolina. Most competitors are moving overseas. He will create up to 8,000 jobs in return for big tax breaks and lower shipping costs to East Coast customers. Even sharing credit and control seems to be a breeze for Dell, who handed over the CEO title last year. "I was CEO for 20 years, now I'll be chairman for 20 years," Dell says. "Then we'll see."

David H. Freedman

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