From A Seed in Semi-Closed Economy to a Global Brand: Leadership Lessons from Lenovo
You probably have heard of Lenovo, the giant technology group who has taken the global market in Personal Computers and Mobile Phones. When one mentions innovation, Lenovo might not be the first brand that crosses your mind. However, we would like to shed more light on a few leadership lessons that we can draw from Lenovo's incremental growth from a Seed Company in a Semi-Closed Economy back in the 80s to a Technology Giant who took over a couple of global players in the technology industry.
Persistence & Authenticity
Started in 1984, Lenovo - then Legend, faced its first hindrance in a notable attempt to import televisions into then a semi-closed economy. However, the company managed to turn around within a year, providing an added value hardware that would allow localization of IBM Personal Computer products into the Chinese market. Unfortunately, their growth was not a smooth sailing journey, and Lenovo faced another failure (or shall we say delayed success) in marketing digital watches.
Facing several miss-steps during its early days, the group's founder and head of company Liu Chuanzhi stayed true to the team's identity and acknowledged that, "our management team often differed on which commercial road to travel. We were mainly scientists and didn't understand the market."
Another ongoing challenge that Lenovo is facing is due to its global growth when the group acquired the Personal Computer leg of IBM in 2005. Despite the shared goals and similar work ethics/values, obvious cultural differences resulted in a lack of trust as well as teamwork for the first two years. In one of her interviews in 2015, Lenovo's Chief of Human Resources Gina Qiao openly said that the culture assimilation "(is) not one day of work. It takes a long time. It is still ongoing."
Lenovo's leaders are rather candid, authentic, and their open acknowledgment is the first step in learning, moving forward stronger as a team, and growth as a brand/company. Their leader's persistence did not only transpire during their unique stories from their early days in Hong Kong (Come on! Who would not tune in after hearing that Lenovo's founders and the team actually walked to their office instead of taking the public transportations to save on the company's cost?!) but also continued through crisis and turnarounds.
Orientation Towards Its People & Stakeholder
With its current success mentioned, it is only fair to discuss a man who has been a very critical factor of Lenovo's market growth - Yang Yuanqing. Yang's leadership has been pointed out multiple times to be one that is forward-thinking and people-oriented.
Despite his quiet demeanor and personality, Yang has a strong desire to build a collaborative relationship in Lenovo. At the beginning of his career when he was named the head of Lenovo's PC business, then 29 years old executive (along with his senior management members) stood in the lobby to greet all of the arriving employees by name. Instead of getting to understand the books/the strategies, he prioritizes his mornings during the first week on the role by getting to know his employees and building a genuine rapport and trust within the team.
Not only humble, but Yang also has the heart to share. His action of sharing a big portion of his annual bonus (US$3.25 million out of US$4.23 million!) across 10,000 hour-based factory workers in China back in 2012 was initially whispered to be a PR move. These accusations stopped when Yang did the same in the following year without publicity.
Despite the tough decisions that had to be made as a business, Lenovo does continue to promote the importance of its people, stakeholders, as well as relationships within the company. This quality has embedded in his employees, take a look at the empowering and supportive message that was released in response to the challenges in working from home due to the pandemic.
These qualities that are held closely by its leaders have brought Lenovo the highest market share in Personal Computers sales in 2019 at a whopping 24.8%, leaving major brands such as HP and Apple behind. Despite the Personal Computer market dominance, it is humbling to hear that a tech-giant like Lenovo acknowledges that there is still room to learn and grow as a brand. As Gina Qiao puts it herself, "I can't say Lenovo is top one, two, or three, but I think (as a result of the culture change) Lenovo is among the top global companies. Back when the merger happened, and we began to change our culture, I would say we were below average. But now we are near the top."