Thursday, October 04, 2012

Lenovo's Perception Issues

Lenovo?  Does it ring a bell?  Remember the big Chinese technology company that a few years ago acquired IBM’s ThinkPad?  At the time there was negative buzz; many Americans did not like the Chinese buying a stalwart American brand.

Fast forward to 2012.   Lenovo, according to Jeff Shafer (, the company’s Vice President of Global Communications, is on its way to building a next-generation global company, known for innovation.  Today, the ThinkPad is doing well and Lenovo is a $30 billion enterprise — the second largest PC company in the world — serving customers in more than 160 countries and employing nearly 30,000 people.

Despite all these good things, Shafer, who spoke in San Francisco earlier this month at “The CCO and the Social Enterprise” — a conference sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Society, an organization of leading public relations professionals — addressed the cultural and communications challenges Lenovo faces as it is building its image as a leading global organization.

The first challenge, as noted above, is the perception that the acquisition would never work. The attempt to diversify the company involved leadership, strategy and cultural issues.  The second challenge is that no Chinese company has ever built a global brand and “in our attempt to do so, more need to learn about us.  The third problem,” Shafer reported, “is that not everyone is rooting for Lenovo, as some do not like the fact that a non-U.S. company is potentially going to take the lead in a traditionally U.S. dominated industry.”  The fact is that Lenovo has just ignited a U.S. manufacturing program with 115 new jobs in North Carolina.

With the aim of showing that China can do globalization right, Shafer suggested that one solution “may be to present ourselves as a next-generation enterprise.”  He pointed out that Lenovo truly has a global leadership team, and while some top positions are Chinese, there is a range of nationalities; there is no attempt to force one culture on everyone else.  That said, “China is our best hand with the media, as everyone is interested in things coming out of China.”

While Lenovo already has locally sensitive media and community programs throughout the world, Shafer advised, the goal is to show that the company is  doing great things globally.  So the focus will be more on the company than where it hails from, “and that is how we hope to tackle the trust issue.” 

Shafer added that to keep messages consistent, he sends out core messages monthly to the entire communications team, “and we trust them to get it right locally.”

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