Merging East and West In a Global Brand
In The Lenovo Way, Gina Qiao, Senior Vice President of Global HR, and Yolanda Conyers, Lenovo’s Vice President of Global HR Operations and Chief Diversity Officer, tell the incredible story of the world’s number one PC maker, Lenovo. Originally called Legend, Lenovo was some 15 years ago a little-known (outside of China) computer company started by a survivor of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. That Liu Chuanzhi was able to build a computer company in China that could compete with the likes of Dell and Apple was already a success story; that his company, now renamed Lenovo, would be able to successfully acquire in 2005 the iconic IBM PC business, which was actually four times the size of Lenovo, was a feat of perhaps unprecedented business skill and daring.
Within Lenovo, the acquisition was described as the snake eating the elephant. Not surprisingly, the digestion of said elephant was a tumultuous, often frustrating process, chronicled in The Lenovo Way by two of its key players.
Gina and Yolanda
The experiences of Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers in many ways reflect the frustrations of the post-acquisition experience for both the Chinese and the non-Chinese managers and employees of the new behemoth.
When English was announced as the official language of the new company, Gina knew exactly three words of English: “hello,” “goodbye” and “thank you.” Arriving at the headquarters of the American firm her company had just acquired, she was refused entry by the gatekeeper, who told her she had to do better than say she had “a meeting with Peter.”
In one important strategy brainstorming session, Gina was silent in response to a proposal from her American counterpart because she disagreed but did not want to be disrespectful. The American counterpart took her silence for approval and pushed through the proposal. Gina eventually learned to use the phrase “I am not comfortable” to communicate her respectful concerns.
Yolanda soon discovered that her Chinese colleagues were seething over what they saw as her overly aggressive, straightforward style. Eventually, Gina would sit her down and give her an extensive list of pointers about what not to do. Examples: no group emails; don’t say you disagree, which shows disrespect; take the time to build individual relationships; wear a jacket to work — dress can also be misinterpreted as a sign of disrespect. Eventually, Gina would move to the U.S., and Yolanda would eventually move to China, enhancing their understanding of other cultures.
The integration challenge was heightened by the fact that there were what the authors call “three rivers,” referring to the three different corporate backgrounds of Lenovo’s executives: Lenovo, IBM and Dell (a number of key people brought in after the merger, including the new CEO of Lenovo, Bill Amelio, as well as Yolanda Conyers, came from Dell).The Lenovo veterans were seen as “unyielding and unwilling to communicate” by others; the IBMers were seen as “slow-moving and entitled”; while the Dell hires were seen as “aggressive and arrogant.” With vastly different languages, national cultures and corporate cultures to overcome, the fact that the new Lenovo not only survived but thrives is a testament to its leaders, including the authors of the book.
The Lenovo Story
In some ways, The Lenovo Way is misnamed. There is, indeed, a Lenovo Way, which consists of four Ps (plan before you pledge, perform as promised, prioritize the company first, and practice improving every day) and Lenovo’s Protect and Attack strategy, which is focused on protecting and exploiting current advantages while always looking for new growth areas. And given Lenovo’s global success, after some difficult post-acquisition years, its strategies for success in the age of globalization should be carefully heeded. However, it is the successful integration of the Chinese and Western cultures that is truly at the heart of this book — and its greatest lesson.
The one drawback to the book is that the voices of Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers are lost, since the text refers to them in the third person. Nevertheless, these two incredible women from opposite sides of the world will encourage everyone to believe that the most insurmountable cross-cultural challenges can be overcome with patience and an open mind.