Time for Awards at IIPM
Neeraj Sharma: MD, Lenovo South Asia
Ian Cohen, renowned author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, once famously said, “There is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement, there is life, and in change there is power.” When IBM Inc., the inventor of personal computer, decided to sell off its PC division to the relatively unknown Chinese company, Lenovo, it faced a similar situation. Years and years of battering by the likes of Dell & HP had compelled IBM to decide that it could not survive with the existing status quo in this segment.
Even for Lenovo, on the other hand, the change was huge. It meant moving from being a predominantly local player to the top echelons of the global PC industry in a flash. The opportunity was compelling. But then, would people who stood by the IBM name, accept this path breaking change at all?
A similar set of challenges confronted Neeraj Sharma, MD, Lenovo South Asia, and his team when they set about establishing the Lenovo brand in India over two years back. Hardly anybody had even heard of the brand. On the question of how they went about launching the brand, Neeraj exclaims, “For the purpose of transition and for the purpose of foundation, the leadership team in India decided that we had a customer set, a channel set and an employee set.” They went on to explain to the customers & channel partners that the new company would have the same set of values & would provide them the same set of service & product quality that they were used to with the IBM brand.
When asked about how his association with IBM has worked out, Neeraj exclaims with a smile, “The company is 25 months old and so am I.” Before Lenovo came up, Neeraj was heading the Personal Computing Division of IBM and has been with the company for eight and a half years. He has been closely associated with the Think pad range of laptops and is very passionate about it. Understandably so, such is the value of the ‘Think’ brand that Lenovo has retained it even as the IBM logo is now relegated to history. Furthermore, the company, under Neeraj’s leadership, embarked on a large scale branding exercise. In contrast to the dull image of IBM (one of the first things to go was the rigid black colour in the Think pad), Lenovo was positioned as a younger, more vivacious brand. The first focus was brand awareness, and along with other path breaking marketing initiatives, the company tied up with the immensely popular TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati. The logo of Lenovo was prominently displayed in front of Amitabh Bachchan, which instantly brought recognition, as well as recall for viewers across India.
The company followed up this act with celebrity tie-ups, notable being the one with celebrity siblings Saif & Soha Ali Khan. Explains Neeraj on the benefits, “We thought they bring a lot of familiar value to what our core brand attributes are and also when you look at most of consumer desktop side of our business, lot of buying pattern is influenced by children....” The company also decided to focus more on TV advertising over print. A lot of innovations also went into the channel end. The company initiated a transactional model as well as a territory based distribution model, to spread across the country. Retail presence was enhanced on a war footing with exclusive as well as multi-brand outlets in cities. And the outcome. Although Lenovo still has a long way to go before it upstages the market leader in India, Neeraj is extremely satisfied about Lenovo being rated number one on customer satisfaction by Dataquest. Furthermore, he asserts, “Not many other mergers can claim to have gained market share in the transition phase so soon, as we have.”
In terms of the long term vision for the company in India, Neeraj stresses on two major strategic objectives, “The first is to grow faster and more profitably than the industry. And we want to deliver high quality, best engineered PCs and we want to delight the customer.” He feels the first step has been accomplished – to become a known brand. The next step for the company is to become the most desired brand in the market. And for that, Lenovo feels it has to achieve cost competitiveness, particularly through highly efficient supply chain management.
That does not mean that quality can be compromised in any sense of the word. Neeraj elaborates how the company is extensively focussing on India specific innovations, “We have constant product innovation and service feedback. We do put different power supply and we may have a robust keyboard only for India... The second kind of innovation happens more with what the customer is doing, how are we participating in it?” The company prides itself on its ‘innovation triangle’ – three innovation centres in the US, Japan & China, where new technologies are developed. And then there is a fourth one coming up in India as well, in the financial capital of Mumbai. Due to this extensive leveraging of engineering talent from across the globe, Neeraj strongly feels that Lenovo is the perfect example of the fl at world concept coined by famous author Thomas Friedman.
In terms of the organisational culture, Neeraj explains that Lenovo India has a very open & friendly environment that is driven by the market. He professes, “In India, we are in the process of building up a culture with high values of truth and integrity and also making sure that we have that youthful spirit around us – creativity.” There is a fun initiative club for employees and an employee corner where they can chat. Employees are encouraged to have a proper work-life balance. The company also follows a system of celebrating birthdays of every employee and they also have a system of nominating employee of the month. Adds Neeraj, “We do create an atmosphere where committed people really want to work and take the pride of the company to the next level and at the same time, go back with a belief that they are changing history.” He feels that over time, the core values of the company of truth seeking & integrity get into the person. As a leader, Neeraj prefers to be direct with most of the people. He feels that a leader has got to be “adaptable, authoritative, and create environment of trust and comfort.” While centralisation exists in the company, Neeraj ensures that employees are also free to take their own decisions most of the time.
On the personal front, Neeraj admits the work-life balance is a huge challenge. But he realises the importance immensely, as he explains, “If you have a fantastic weekend with family, you will never face Monday morning blues!” But he does try hard to find time for his wife Upasana and three and a half year old son Maurya. His wife decided to quit work when Maurya was born, a decision Neeraj truly appreciates, as he feels it is very important for the family bond to remain strong. Neeraj is intensely passionate for cricket, golf and he loves travelling too. Besides he is fond of reading books on management & philosophy as well.
Coming back to his favourite passion, Lenovo, Neeraj can’t conceal his excitement as he tells us, “The fun (for Lenovo) has only just begun!” Indeed, while it still is an arduous climb to the top of the PC industry in India, the ‘Think’ mutation is now in full swing!
B&E edit bureau: R. Prasad
For Complete IIPM Article, Click on IIPM Article
Source : IIPM Editorial, 2007
An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative
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