Michael Dell On His Infamous ‘I’d Shut Down Apple’ Quote: “My Answer Was Largely Misconstrued.”

During a Q&A today at Web 2.0 Summit, I asked Dell CEO Michael Dell if he regretted saying that Apple should shut down the company and sell the stock back to shareholders way back in the day.

Dell made the infamous statement 14 years ago when Apple was trading at $17 a share, and I wondered if he’d revise his words, in light of the fact that the latter company is now trading at $420 a share and at a ~$400 billion dollar market cap, among other things.

The question elicited laughter from the audience, but Dell said that he found it a “great opportunity” to clarify what he had said. His response? “My answer was misconstrued.”

Dell said that he initially refused to answer the original question in 1997, and after being asked to answer twice he basically responded “What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders,” because he couldn’t imagine himself being CEO of any other company.

Dell went on, “The meaning of my answer was that I’m the CEO of Dell, I don’t think about being the CEO of any other company, I’m not a CEO for hire, so if you asked me what I’d do for any other company, it’s not really something I think about.”

Dell then took a somber tone, “I have tremendous respect for Apple. Obviously Steve will be missed and was a friend.” He described meeting Apple co-founder Steve Jobs at a Houston Apple user group when he was 16 years old, where Dell was in attendance with his Apple II.

When asked if he would have given the same answer when asked about any other company, like McDonald’s for example, Dell said, “I am Michael Dell founder of Dell [and would ask] ‘Why don’t you give me another question?’.” Fair enough.

“I’m not going to apologize for [Dell] stock going up 16,000% since 1987,” he ended the talk emphasizing.