Lenovo Goes Global despite Culture Clash

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Lenovo Group, the world’s fourth-largest computer maker, has been lagging behind competitors.
Its acquisition of IBM’s personal-computer business catapulted Lenovo onto the world stage: Now about 60% of the company’s sales come from outside China, and it is the fourth-biggest computer maker by shipments.

Lenovo has filled its ranks with Westerners from IBM and Dell Inc., opened factories in Mexico and Poland, and gone on an Olympics-led marketing blitz. While Lenovo has fared better than other Chinese companies that have tried to become global players, it has fallen behind competitors in the PC industry.
In the early days after the IBM deal, cultural clashes and power struggles nearly derailed the Chinese computer maker’s aggressive strategy to become a world player, say current and former executives. Now the company’s global ambitions must confront the economic malaise in the U.S. and Europe — two markets that were key to its expansion plans.

Bill Amelio, a former Dell executive who became Lenovo’s CEO in late 2005, was sometimes frustrated by his Chinese colleagues’ reluctance to speak their minds. “You don’t want everyone saying ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’ all the time,” says Mr. Amelio, a brawny former college wrestler. “You want them to be able to smack you upside the head and say ‘Hey, I’ve got a better idea.'” Conference calls were difficult as Americans hogged the airtime. “The Americans would just talk and talk,” says Qiao Jian, a vice president of human resources. “Then they’d say ‘How come you don’t want to add value to this meeting?'”

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