Good business is about basics proclaims John Harper ’84, vice president and CFO of Dell Systems. On a recent visit to Texas A&M, Harper outlined to a group of Mays students the fundamental tenets of success in the business world, which he says are also applicable outside of the career field.

Dell Services VP and CFO John Harper '84 shared some career tips with Mays students recently.
Dell Services VP and CFO John Harper ’84 shared some career tips with Mays students recently. (view more photos)

“It’s unsettling when a man’s 26-year career is distilled into just a few slides,” Harper jokes as he flips through his presentation.

Along with providing a work ethic outshining that of your peers and applying discretion to what you put in writing, Harper emphasizes aspects of a solid character as a suitable foundation for success in the business sector. “We live in a complicated world,” he says. “Don’t forget about the basics.”

These “basics” include exhibiting patience and good judgment, along with respect for every member of an organization, regardless of rank. This will help to distinguish you from your peers.

Harper’s list of tips
  • Be a worker, the person willing to outwork everybody else.
  • Find a great company where ethics matter.
  • Have patience. Wait for the process to work.
  • Use good judgment.
  • Practice good communications. In fact, over-communicate with your boss rather than under-communicate.
  • Value your people. Spend whatever it takes to get good people, then once you get them, treat them right.
  • Succeed in the matrix — which means realize you’re usually dealing with more than one boss.
  • Make the complex simple. But don’t simplify it so much you make it wrong.
  • Get it in writing. Be careful what you put in writing.
  • Don’t forget the basics.
  • Show respect to everyone.
  • Have fun.

“Attitude is so important,” Harper notes, adding that the amount of fun you see yourself having in your career is every bit as important as finding a company where ethics matter. “This is liberating as an employee,” he states, for “no level of structuring will protect you against ethics.”

Harper started his career working for 17 years with Perot Systems, and he credits working alongside Ross Perot for much of the advice that he prescribes. “Perot founded an entire industry,” he says, adding that Perot was “the most instinctive basic businessman.” The set of skills that Harper learned from Perot had much to do with maintaining a solid business constitution, but even more with sustaining a sound character. This presents an even more appealing portrayal of the company as a whole, which lends itself to the prosperity of the group.

Quoting Perot, Harper outlines the key principle to the success that Dell has experienced: “We’re not in the technology business, we’re in the people business. Technology changes; retaining and keeping people is the key.”