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Setting Dell’s network foundation

Dec 23, 20025 mins

Kim Goodman, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking, is masterminding the company’s switch business – driven to succeed for her mentor Michael Dell, herself and the African-American community at large.

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A role model
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Ask analysts about the impact Dell is making in the switch market, and they’ll say, “a respectable dent.” Kim Goodman, 37-year-old vice president and general manager of Dell Networking, is the one swinging the hammer.

Goodman, who joined Dell 20 months ago to develop new business lines for the company, has had switch vendors watching the company’s heightened activity in the market ever since. Cisco and 3Com have had enough. Both recently decided they can no longer afford to sell switches through Dell’s direct model, canceling their reseller agreements with the company.

That Dell now has sold more than 2 million switch ports – half of those in the last eight months – is not a surprise, Goodman says.

“Michael [Dell] was the first to understand that there were some key trends occurring in the enterprise networking space around standardization and Ethernet that could be acquired from some of the silicon providers,” she says. “At the same time, we were working with partners and finding a very high attach rate between our servers and network switches. There was a lot of evidence that said we should move forward into the market.”

It’s also no surprise that Goodman is behind the success.

From law to commerce

Goodman, who grew up in a working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s South side, has been goal-oriented from an early age. Her father, who worked 13 out of every 14 days filling vending machines, and her mother, a teacher, have always encouraged her to strive to be the best.

Goodman’s aspirations have always been as much for herself as they have been for African-Americans. “Growing up, my goal was to be the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court,” she says.

But Goodman gave up her judicial aspirations while attending Stanford University, from which she graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in industrial engineering. “I changed from law to business because I did a study on what could have the most impact for advancing the African-American community. My conclusions came down to more participation in the capital system, as well as improved education,” she says.

From Stanford, Goodman funneled her motivation and drive into a telecommunications specialty at Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm to some of the nation’s largest corporations. She left Bain temporarily for Harvard University, from which she received an master’s degree in business administration in 1992.

While at Bain, where she eventually became partner, Goodman saw executives depart for Dell. It was inevitable that Dell CEO Michael Dell, who often hires top executives from the nation’s leading consulting companies, would one day come knocking on her door. She heeded his call in 2000 and now considers Dell one of her mentors, along with Kevin Rollins, Dell president and former Bain partner, and Betsy Bernard, newly named AT&T president, with whom Goodman has worked at various points in her career (see story, “At the heart of a new AT&T” ).

Goodman made the move to Dell because she liked the company’s focus on the direct model and the way it “drives its business based on clear economic decisions of what’s best for the customer and what’s the best fit for the business.” It also helped that more than one-third of Dell executives come out of consulting, which Goodman says “is productive because it enables people to acquire the skill sets to do the data- and metrics-driven insight used in [Dell’s] business.”

Goodman’s goals for Dell Networking are as clear as her personal focus.

“We offer the customer extremely high performance and reliability, all backed by Dell service and support in an integrated way so the customer has one number to call for their infrastructure of PCs, servers, storage and switches. And we offer that at 50% less than the cost of the competition.”

Goodman speaks the Dell ‘direct model’ litany like a professional. She seems to believe it, too. That is what Dell and its executives have always relied on to be successful.

A role model

And Goodman’s business acumen has undeniably helped her achieve a model of success the African-American community can follow. In July, Fortune magazine named her one of the most powerful black executives in America. She is often asked to share her story with youth or people early in their careers by speaking at events such as the National Black MBA Association Convention.

But Goodman, who is newly married, isn’t all business all the time. She is a role model with the community at large – as a Girl Scout leader and a volunteer and mentor to inner-city youth studying for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests.

She also enjoys outdoor activities, particularly running, and she likes football – enough to own season tickets for the Oakland Raiders. Energetic and focused, Goodman seems bound to thrive.