The Lenovo Way: A book review by Bob Morris

Lenovo WayThe Lenovo Way: Managing a Diverse Global Company for Optimal Performance
Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers
McGraw-Hill (2014)

“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.” Peter Drucker

Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers have played major roles during Lenovo’s rapid but prudent growth, especially in recent years since its founding in 1984. They trace that process, sharing valuable lessons they and their associates learned about what works, what doesn’t, and why. Yes, it has become a global giant in high technology and consumer electronics but its modest origin shares much in common with the origins of most start-ups today. True, Lenovo is one of the few acorns that became oak tree. How and why it did is one of the most interesting business stories I have as yet encountered, with people being the primary reason for what has been achieved thus far. Be sure to read rather than skip the two Forewords by Liu Chuanzhi (one of two co-founders) and Yang Yuanqing (current CEO). Qiao and Conyers then add their own stories that are as entertaining as they are informative. Their personal humility is skillfully juxtaposed with robust pride in what “we” at Lenovo have done and done together.

This is among the most informative books I have read in recent years that focus on how and why business leaders must resolve various challenges that, together, seem define the current and imminent global marketplace. For example:

o How to defend, indeed strengthen core products and services while using innovative thinking to develop new or better products and services to replace them?

o How to increase and nourish diversity while unifying a workforce, especially one distributed within several countries?

o How to preserve the same corporate values while accommodating different (sometimes contradictory) cultural values?

o How to be a servant leader without loss of authority?

o How to use lean thinking to create abundance?

In Chapter 7, Qiao and Conyers identify and discuss what they characterize as “The Four Ps for Business Success”: Plan, Perform, Prioritize, and Practice. In Chapter 9, they add a fifth: “Pioneer new products and conquer new frontiers.” Of course, this is a process during which evaluation and measurement accompany initiatives. As I worked my way through the first few chapters of the book, I was struck by the emphasis on a unique combination of vision and pragmatism. Obviously, the cultural values affirm an observation by Thomas Edison long ago: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, listed also to suggest the scope of Qiao and Conyers’s coverage:

o The Protect and Attack Strategy (Pages 5-7)
o Early Strategy: Build a Meritocracy (20-22)
o Excerpt from Liu Chuanzhi’s call-to-action speech introducing new strategy in 2010 (29-32)
o The Long-Term Lenovo Strategy Emerges (36-38)
o Fu Pan: Self-Critique for Success (46-47)
o The Announcement That Rocked the Business World (48-50)
o One Company with Two Systems (59-61)
o Bridging the East/West Divide (72-75)
o Bring in a Change Agent (75-79)
o Highlight the Strengths and Identify the Weaknesses (80-82)
o Identify the Positives and Build from There (86-88)
o Changing the Culture Is in the Details (96-98)
o Embrace and Understand Your Company’s Core Values (101-102)
o Cultural Training Begins in the C-Level Boardroom (107-110)
o Manage How the Team Comes Together (121-123)
o Diverse Leadership (125-129)
o Be Unpredictable — It Keeps the Competition Guessing (136-141)
o Lenovo’s “Four Ps for Success” (151-164)
o Pioneer: Expand Beyond Core Businesses and Capture New Customers (190-193)

I commend Qiao and Conyers on their skillful use of several reader-friendly devices. They include mini-commentaries inserted throughout the narrative, checklists of key points or action sequences, stark bullet points, and a “Lenovo Strategy Takeaways” section at the conclusion of Chapters 2-9. These devices will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

In Chapter 2, include Liu Chuanzhi’s call-to-action speech introducing new Lenovo strategy in 2010. He what is required to bring the Lenovo culture to life: “Leaders at all levels must be the advocates of the new culture by communicating and promoting, repeatedly, what we want to stick to. They must be role models by living and practicing the new culture. The words and actions of leaders will shape the direction of the company’s culture and will determine the credibility of that culture. A leader must lead and guide his team in reviewing and summarizing best practices and codes of conduct to learn, apply, promote, and duplicate, and to do things right. It is necessary to apply and incorporate culture into the management, so that the culture will be tested by and nurtured in business operations.”

All organizations need strong leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Chairman Liu’s comments are relevant to leaders in any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Culture is not a list of adjectives. Rather, it is a way of life and almost literally becomes the so-called “secret sauce” for both success and failure. Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers provide a wealth of information, insights, and counsel. It remains for each reader, however, to determine which of the material is most relevant to their own organization and then apply it effectively.

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