The Lenovo Way: “How the snake can indeed digest the elephant”

West Meets East | East Meets West
$3B to $50B Global Co < 10 years.

by Grace Ueng, Savvy Growth

An advisor to NC Chinese Business Association, I was asked to moderate last week’s conversation on attracting investment from and doing business with China. A special treat prior to the panel was a book signing by Gina Qiao, SVP of Global HR for Lenovo.  I had met Gina years earlier during her tour of duty in Lenovo’s U.S. HQ in Raleigh, NC.  I had been approached about a consumer marketing role. While I was focused on building my business, Savvy Marketing Group, and could not consider an in-house role, I had the fortuitous chance to meet Gina.

This weekend, I read my signed copy of The Lenovo Way: Managing a Diverse Global Company for Optimal Performance, cover to cover with great interest.  I so relate to Gina.   We both studied management science, Gina at Fudan, where I years later enjoyed teaching in their international MBA program, a joint venture with MIT Sloan School, where I had received the same undergraduate major.

Then we both discovered our passion for driving revenue via marketing in technology companies. We shared the skill of coming up with a message, packaging it up creatively, and aiming it at our target audience. She is now leading HR, and I’m now close to HR through my executive coaching work and consulting in the technology industry. And we both think about strategy in our different worlds, Gina on the executive team of a Fortune 50 company, and me as a consultant to emerging growth CEOs.

Growing up as a “banana”, I rediscovered my “roots” at MIT and then after my cycling accident over a decade ago. I went to China to teach at Fudan and established Savvy’s China practice. While I was awakening to “West meets East,” Gina was living “East meets West.”

When we reconnected last week, many years later, a world of change had taken place at Lenovo and with Gina, a delight to discover! I’d like to share just a few of my learnings from Gina’s journey in helping to take Lenovo global.

  • Global: Leaders reconstructed Lenovo’s entire cultural DNA, leveraging the strengths and styles from all cultures,  to create a new way of thinking inside one unified Lenovo.  English was made the official language even though this meant a lot of language lessons for the Chinese.  To be successful in digesting major acquisitions from IBM and Google (Motorola) successfully, unification  was a critical success factor.
    An  example: Westernization of  how employees addressed their superiors. It was such a hard sell for loyal Lenovo employees in China, for instance, to not call Gina “Senior Vice President Qiao,” that they often didn’t address superiors by name at all.  The staff felt awkward and embarrassed. Frustrated, members of the project committee issued a memo, threatening employees with fines if they accidentally addressed their bosses by their more formal title.  Finally, the CEO had top management line up to greet employees in the main lobby, as they were arriving at work. They shook hands with hundreds of employees and said to each “Hello, my name is (insert first name).” It was an exhausting process, but it did the trick!
  • Culture of Diversity = Lenovo Way:  Goes way beyond gender, race, and the areas we typically consider.  An example: Chinese and Americans have different skills sets.  Gina shared a story of how she learned from interviewing leader candidates in the U.S. for the first time. She thought everyone was qualified as they all had good presentation skills. Her CEO explained that in America, of candidates, 90% have good communication skills; so instead, test their logic thinking. In China, Gina had been accustomed that most candidates have good logic thinking, but are quiet; 10% have good communication skills.
  • Start with “zero mindset”: Past successes don’t determine future growth. After years of being in the top position in China’s market, long time Lenovo executives swallowed their pride and started all over again, from the bottom. Gina was humble enough to recognize what she did not know and to set about learning and developing. Gina described how she learned tremendously by entering her “uncomfortable zone” and now can interact effectively with people from any country and build trust. Moving from being a local China leader, over a 7 year  journey, she had transitioned to becoming a true global leader!

About the Author
I founded Savvy Marketing Group in 2003 and rebranded to Savvy Growth last year to reflect our management consulting  & executive and team coaching services, in addition to our long standing marketing services.

Our passion is working closely with our clients as long term partners to help you reach your goals. Nothing makes us happier than having you come back to say thank you, that we made a significant impact on your business!