Business & Leadership

Yuanqing Yang (Lenovo): discreet speaker, ambitious doer

It isn’t easy to have both vision and power of execution, but Yuanqing Yang is one such rare leader. Since 2001, he has led Lenovo to become a true international company. Discreet in appearance, Yang is an ambitious strategist who believes that “being number one is important, because nobody can name the world’s second highest mountain.”

It isn’t easy to have both vision and power of execution, but Yuanqing Yang is one such rare leader. Since 2001, he has led Lenovo to become a true international company. Discreet in appearance, Yang is an ambitious strategist who believes that “being number one is important, because nobody can name the world’s second highest mountain.”


1989: Timid but committed, a fresh graduate entered a wrong sector?
1.81 meters in height, broad shoulders, angular forehead, graceful smile, even a little shy – At first sight, one might say that Yuanqing Yang is a gentle intellectual. As a matter of fact, he was passionate about literature in high school and aspired to be a professor, but chose to study computer science at university merely because a friend of his mother was convinced that computers were the future. After graduating with a master’s degree from the University of Science and Technology of China, he joined Lenovo in 1989 with the intention of doing R&D at the company and the hope of subsequently being sent abroad, which represented a golden path for young Chinese graduates at that time.
Yet life would again play an unanticipated joke, as instead of doing research, Yang was appointed as a salesperson. “At that time, we didn’t have such strong egos as those of today’s young generation. I was always assigned some tasks that initially didn’t interest me, but as per my nature I took each assignment seriously and strived to do it well, rather than following the whims of my personal likings,” Yang later recalled.
Such rigorousness and dedication has played an essential role in his rising future at Lenovo. After all, when this young man stammered in his first speech at a company meeting, who might imagine him to later become the chairman and CEO of a 16-billion-dollar group?

1994: Discreetly outstanding, a young star emerged after the crisis
Yang was promoted to general manger of CAD Department of Lenovo in 1991, and led the department to achieve an annual growth of over 100%. His talent drew attention of Chuanzhi Liu, founder of Lenovo, who began to observe him closely.
In 1993, the group didn’t meet its announced objectives for the first time, and the China’s PC industry was also experiencing its gravest crisis ever. Anxiety and doubt was in the air. It was at this critical moment in 1994 that Liu decided to entrust 29-year-old Yang with the responsibility of the position of general manager of Lenovo’s PC Department.
Now looking back, Yang said, “I’m not afraid of pressure. I enjoy challenge and competition. When I decide to do something, I just do it, and I don’t like being overcautious or indecisive.” The first thing he did in this new position was to build the trust and reputation of the Lenovo brand, for which he traveled through all the regions in China visiting distributors and clients. Internally, he led the restructuring of the PC department, increased employees’ salary and reformed the performance reward and penalty system.
That year, Lenovo sold 42.000 personal computers of its own brand, among the three most selling brands in China. “Sales genius” and “IT star” were among numerous compliments from the media. Yang was about to rise to the stage of history.

2004: Determined and perseverant, a new CEO led a “snake-swallows-elephant” legend
Since, Yang was promoted subsequently and involved increasingly in core decisions of the group. In 2001, at the retirement of Liu, Yang was nominated as chairman and CEO of Lenovo. He was then only 37 years old.
Three years later, he led Lenovo to acquire IBM’s PC business for 1.25 billion dollars. At that time, the annual revenue of Lenovo was less than 3 billion dollars and almost all came from the Greater China Region. Although holding nearly 30% of market share in China, Lenovo was ranked only the eighth in the global market in terms of PC sales. Moreover, no Chinese company had ever acquired business from a foreign company, not to mention from such a market leader as Big Blue. This bold acquisition was therefore described as a “snake-swallows-elephant” venture.
Faced with pessimism and skepticism from all sides, Yang replied: “You may doubt our capacity to internationalize, but never our determination to do so.” In order to accelerate the internationalization path of the group, Yang decided to adopt English as the official work language, and he even moved his whole family to the US.

2015: Modest yet ambitious, an experienced leader marches towards the future
Yang is a man of incredible power of execution, and never surrenders before obstacles.
At his arrival of the position of CEO in 2001, he announced the objective of “making Lenovo on the list of Fortune 500 within 10 years”. In the following three years, the performance of Lenovo stagnated. In 2004, the share price of Lenovo in Hong Kong Stock Exchange slumped after its acquisition of IBM’s PC business. It took Lenovo three and a half difficult years to prove itself, and finally enter the Fortune 500 list in 2008. Yang honored his words three years in advance.
He is a man of amazing vision, and never afraid of changes.
Upon his return to the role of CEO in 2009, he made the decision to buy back the mobile business that was previously sold, because he already foresaw that Lenovo needed to prepare for the shift of the PC industry towards mobile devices and to transform itself “from a PC market-share leader into a PC-plus innovation leader”. He was well aware that with the whole PC industry declining, hardware could no longer survive without integration with software, applications and services. Yang realized every product and service needed to be developed around the user, and the company needed to adopt smaller structures for quicker reaction and closer relationships with clients.
The transformation was tough, but Lenovo stayed on track: in 2010, the group launched the LeFund, a US$100 million angel investment fund focused on mobile Internet; in 2013, it released the multimode Yoga Tablet; in 2014, it took over Motorola and IBM x86 server business; in 2015, its first subsidiary dedicated to Internet and smart home, FM365, was put into operation…
Not just the group, but Yang himself is also trying to embrace the Internet era and multiple interactions with the public. Last year, he opened a personal account on Weibo (Chinese version of Tweeter), changed his hair and dress style, and accepted more media interviews. At the age of 50, this man is determined more than ever to drive into the future.

Jeanne Yizhen YIN


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