Chinese electronics giant Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s PC division two years ago has led to a boost in innovation and a focus on sales and marketing that the division didn’t receive when it was a part of IBM, a senior vice-president of the company told siliconrepublic.com.
Fran O’Sullivan, senior vice-president at Lenovo’s Product Group, spent 24 years at IBM’s PC division before it was acquired by Lenovo two years ago for US$1.75bn.
O’Sullivan began her career with IBM with an assignment to NASA’s Space Shuttle Programme at Cape Kennedy in Florida before transferring to IBM’s Personal Computer division shortly after the birth of the PC in 1981. She was instrumental in the creation and development of IBM’s ThinkPad brand.
“PCs weren’t the core competency of IBM and therefore the division didn’t have the money to invest in advertising or building up a brand,” said O’Sullivan.
“I’ve spend more than 24 years in the PC industry and I think that the last two years were the most challenging but also the most exciting. We’ve learned the most in the last two years and I really feel that there’s a winning spirit running through Lenovo right now.”
O’Sullivan said that the acquisition went smoothly for the PC division. “Most of the worries, particularly for the employees, were the long-term impact of the sale. It went smoothly and we made sure to keep communicating with them. The impact of the acquisition has gone well beyond our own predictions. My favourite quote about the sale of the PC division to Lenovo was ‘the shackles are off’.”
O’Sullivan said that one of the reasons the acquisition went smoothly was because of the strong heritage of innovation at both IBM and Lenovo. “ThinkPad is a good example of the kind of innovation the PC division at IBM could deliver and we are carrying on that tradition at Lenovo.
“Our strategy is to deliver the best engineered PCs in the industry and our customers are absolutely delighted.
“The most recent ThinkPad machines with the Intel Santa Rosa processor built in are the quietest and the coolest – 10pc cooler – and the highest-performing machines out of anything we’ve ever announced.”
Built-in software is another feature that O’Sullivan believes will help Lenovo differentiate itself in an industry where it’s hard to differentiate one PC from another.
“In our ThinkPad range, for example, we have introduced a new PowerPoint presentation mode where you hit two keys and what you see on the projector is the PowerPoint slide show but on the machine’s screen you have the normal slide as well as the speaker notes. It’s a concrete example of what we offer; people shouldn’t have to worry if these things will work or not.
“That’s our real strength right now. Communicating with our customers is vital; we meet with them and I personally read every comment a customer makes. Our mission is to make people more professional and at the same time love our computers. That’s the differentiation we are striving for.”
O’Sullivan said that while innovation has been key at the former IBM division the Lenovo acquisition has also led to more streamlined and active product development to react to market trends.
“One of the nice things about the acquisition was that we learned some of the best practices from the China perspective. Go-to-market strategies are vital. PCs are no longer a sweetspot technology. The market changes so quickly that to get a new model to market faster product development has to change. The best way of doing this is to interface with enterprise customers.
“We also talk to our business partners, gather intelligence, approach each market specifically and measure how we’re doing at all times,” said O’Sullivan.
Forecasting trends hitting the PC industry in the next couple of years is never easy but O’Sullivan is adamant she is spurred on by two key trends – mobility and the environment.
“Instant-on and push email are two trends we are mindful of as well as new battery technology. But in terms of a PC industry professional and as a human being I believe the industry still has a long way to go in our environmental journey. We are challenging our development teams to come up with efficient, environmentally friendly machines all the time. It’s the right thing to do.
“I particularly like Europe for the 3G and integrated wireless trend it is driving. Europe has led the industry in making the cell phone mainstream but with many homes in Europe not having strong broadband penetration we’ll see early adoption of 3G-based devices that are thinner and lighter and boast other wireless features in the next 12 months,” said O’Sullivan.
By John Kennedy