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Keeping her eye on the ball as others battle it out

IF you were to imagine a high-flying technology executive, there is a pretty good chance Dell's Joyce Cullen would be close to the picture you would come up with.

From an Irish perspective, the Austin, Texas resident is one of the most important executives for Dell's operations here. When we meet, she is well into a round of meetings at the company's offices in Cherrywood, Dublin, but is more than ready to talk to the press.

As vice-president and general manager for OEM Solutions at Dell, Ms Mullen is the global head of one of the biggest sectors in Dell's Irish operation, which employs some 1,800 people. Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEM, is one of the fastest-growing sectors in business computing today.

In layman's terms, OEM allows Company A to manufacture and integrate Company B's products directly into its merchandise and then sell them as one product.

Earlier this month, Dell became the first global OEM partner for Microsoft. In practice, this means that Dell can provide Windows products and software directly to its business customers.

Dell then becomes the sole point of contact for its customers. If there is a problem with the Microsoft product that has been integrated into the Dell system, the customer contacts Dell rather than Microsoft.

"This is key for us as it makes its much easier for our clients to do business with us," says Ms Cullen.

"Think about it. Say you run a financial company. Instead of having to source your computers from Dell, you software from Microsoft, your servers from another firm and your printers from a fourth firm, you can source everything directly from Dell.

"Then, if there are any problems you have one point of contact and don't have to go chasing around four or five different outlets".

OEM is a global business but Dell has already started pushing the service out to its Irish customers.

Among its clients, it is working with Digital Cinema Ltd (DCL) to provide a digital movie and advertising-distribution network covering the island.

OEM service

In a nutshell, Dell's OEM service allows DCL to manage, store and play movies at the touch of a button.

It seems like a relatively minor step but in practice this can save a company millions of euro over the long term.

Globally, OEM is a multibillion-dollar business for Dell. Ms Mullen is in charge of it from top to bottom, running everything from global sales to technical support and business operations.

OEM is also something of a contrast to the public profile of the company.

Caught by declining PC sales, Dell has found itself caught up in a very public battle to take the company private. Founder and chief executive Michael Dell remains the favourite to lead a leveraged buyout of the firm.

Ms Mullen is somewhat coy on how so much negative publicity and corporate intrigue can affect the business and its staff.

"It's certainly a very interesting and exciting time for the company," she says.

"Obviously, there is a lot more press interest in Dell than normal, but for us it doesn't affect us day-to-day.

"Customers don't see any change to the service, which remains as it always has been," she claims.

Enterprise market

In a sense, Ms Mullen is part of what Mr Dell wants to transform the company into, namely a services and consulting business positioned into the enterprise market.

The PC industry appears to be in something of a terminal decline. PC sales plunged 14pc in the first three months of this year and, while Mr Dell doesn't want to exit the consumer PC market totally, he sees the future in business-to-business sales and consulting.

That is exactly where OEM sits as a business.

Dell has been one of the cornerstone US employers in Ireland for many years. Despite the well-publicised end of computer manufacturing in Limerick some years ago, the company still employs about 1,800 people in Ireland.

It has become something of a recurring question for executives from the US, but it is an important one nonetheless.

Ireland was for years the favoured destination for US investment in Europe, but the bust caused many potential investors to think twice about putting their money into the country.

When Ms Mullen is at home, what sort of attitude does she see within the Dell hierarchy to Ireland? Her answer is reassuring.

"It's very positive. The things that make Ireland attractive to us – the quality of the workforce, the political stability, its position vis-a-vis Europe – all these things are unchanged.

Focus

"Now, if the business here was focused on selling into the Irish market, that might be a different story, but it's not. Dell is positioned in Ireland but it faces out to international markets and that is very important to us," she adds.

Ms Mullen, whose family is originally from Limerick, has been with Dell for some 14 years at this stage, but she clearly has little desire to move companies any time soon.

Still a young woman, she laughs when asked about her own plans for the future.

"I've got more than enough to keep me occupied in my current job. The OEM business is one that is growing rapidly and to say its keeping me occupied for the moment is an understatement. I mean that in a very good way, however," she adds.

Irish Independent