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Telling Fortunes

No. 2: Michael Dell

Age: 48Home: AustinNet Worth: $15.9 billion

The oldest son of an orthodontist father and a stockbroker mother in Houston, Michael Dell applied to take his high school equivalency exam in the third grade. (His parents insisted he stay in the classroom.) In high school, he sold newspaper subscriptions, checking marriage licenses and mortgage applications to target potential customers; when his smart salesmanship earned him more in commissions than his economics teacher’s salary, he used the proceeds to buy an Apple II and took it apart to see how it worked. As a freshman at the University of Texas, Dell began upgrading computers and selling them out of his dorm. By 1992, at age 27, he was the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and by 2000 Dell Inc. was selling 35 million dollars’ worth of computers a day. With his wife, Susan, Dell has become a well-known philanthropist, giving to children’s causes, medical education, and community initiatives around the world. His namesake company missed the boat on tablets and mobile devices, but in September Dell succeeded in  buying it back, for $25 billion, so he could take it private. He now intends to move the Round Rock–based computer maker into the more lucrative realm of business services. If the past is any guide, watch out.

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