Hong Kong: Rock star, hard-driving salesman and card-carrying Communist party member.
Lenovo Group Ltd chairman Yang Yuanqing is the key driver of the No. 4 personal computer, or PC, maker’s growth that has seen it enter the Fortune 500 for the first time this year. Yang hopes Lenovo can ride the Olympic bandwagon into a bigger US and European consumer business, barely three years after rocketing onto the world stage with the $1.25 billion (Rs5,275 crore) purchase of International Business Machines Corp.’s (IBM) PC unit.
Yang’s timing could have been better. Lenovo, which failed to see through a second acquisition attempt abroad last year, faces decelerating growth this year in both its foreign and home markets.
Key driver: Chairman of Lenovo Group Yang Yuanqing. Photograph: Nelson Ching / Bloomberg
It lost the No. 3 rank to Acer Inc. in 2007 after the aggressive Taiwanese company beat it in a race for Europe’s Packard Bell BV.
“Lenovo has just come to the forefront of the global stage. We still have a long way to go to become as strong as those companies that are on the Fortune 500, year after year,” Yang told investors on Thursday.
Lenovo’s grip is indeed precarious: it only barely squeezed its way onto Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s largest companies this year, ranking 499th.
Yang, 43, is one of a growing band of card-carrying Communist party members who have turned moribund state enterprises into viable publicly listed corporations.
After joining Lenovo in 1989, he was put in charge of the PC unit, known as Legend at the time, as a so-called “young marshal” to founder Liu Chuanzhi.
While Liu served as a father figure to the company, Yang’s job was to help Lenovo goout and conquer—be it customers, corporate partners or acquisitions.
“He’s chairman of the board but he’s got a very good pulse of the rhythm of the business. He’s not just a strategic thinker but he also understands execution,” Deepak Advani, Lenovo chief marketing officer, told Reuters in a recent interview.
“In the company, he’s very much viewed as a rock star.”
An aggressive salesman, Yang once led his team to a crossroad and, on the count of three, made them walk in four different directions until they came across a computer store, where they had to pitch Lenovo products.
Today, Lenovo is often mentioned in the same breath as larger rivals Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc.
“Lenovo’s next challenges are expanding its market share through expanding its consumer portfolio and, of course, overseas acquisitions, but that will be by chance,” said brokerage firm CLSA analyst Jenny Lai, who covers Lenovo from Taipei.
A native of China’s eastern Anhui province, Yang is one of a generation of executives in China who, unlike younger corporate movers and shakers, have scant overseas exposure but savvy enough to successfully negotiate foreign markets.
Perhaps knowing this, he ceded the CEO title he acquired in 2001 to IBM’s Stephen Ward, and later to Dell’s former top Asia executive, William Amelio.
Amelio’s defection triggered a minor exodus of Dell executives, as Lenovo tries to forge a global brand.
“He looks scholarly and refined, but actually he is very ambitious and aggressive,” said Lai about Yang.
“He can not only tolerate people with different backgrounds, but outsource power to his professional management, which is not easy for a Chinese entrepreneur.”
But all of this may pale in comparison to Olympic glory. As one of the Olympic torch bearers, Yang ran his part on the Tiananmen square in Beijing last week.
And as one of several Olympic partners, Lenovo designed the Olympic torch and carted out 30,000 pieces of PC gear for use at Olympic venues.
“Despite being short, it was one of the most wonderful journeys of my life,” Yang told local media. REUTERS