BEIJING (AdAge.com) -- Lenovo Group's decision to tap David Roman, an American, as VP-chief marketing officer shows just how much the Chinese PC company's fortunes have changed in a year.
A veteran of blue-chip companies like Hewlett-Packard and Apple Computer, Mr. Roman joins the world's fourth-largest PC maker this week during a much-needed growth period. Lenovo's sales rose 33% year-on-year in the last quarter of 2009.
Lenovo "became the fastest-growing PC manufacturer in the world among the top five," said Beijing-based CEO Yuanqing Yang. "Now, we have a tremendous opportunity to take our business to new heights. [Mr. Roman] brings to Lenovo outstanding experience in the PC sector, a strong background in building brands and driving demand, and a vision for breakthrough creative marketing that will fuel our growth in the global commercial and consumer technology market."
Chinese multinationals tap overseas talent
Chinese marketers with international ambitiones are increasingly tapping western marketing expertise.
Another big Chinese multinational, Haier Group, has turned to an American to grow its overseas operations. Haier, the largest home appliance brand in China, hired Philip Carmichael as president, Asia/Pacific in August 2008. The fluent Mandarin-speaker previously held senior positions at Lexmark, Rockwell International Corp. and McDonnell Douglas Corp.
Li Ning, China's largest local sportswear brand, now employs a handful of foreigners from countries including the U.S., Germany and Singapore at its corporate headquarters in Beijing. Two years ago, Li Ning opened a high-tech design center with about two dozen employees in Portland, the hometown of rival Nike, to tap into that city's sportswear expertise.
Lenovo is widely regarded as one of the top contenders to be China's first truly global brand, part of the challenge that lured Mr. Roman to a Chinese company.
Lenovo sales on the rise
Joining Lenovo represents "a fantastic opportunity to join a company on the rise, with a unique global culture, a history of innovation leadership and a bright future not only in PCs, but as a leader in consumer and commercial technology," Mr. Roman said.
Mr. Roman, who will remain based in Palo Alto, Calif., fills a role left empty when Deepak Advani returned to IBM Corp. in March 2009, a dark period for the Chinese company that bought IBM's PC division in 2004.
In the last three months of 2008, sales plummeted 20%, leading to a $97 million loss that quarter. In response, Lenovo laid off about 11% of staff in early 2009, including CEO Bill Amelio. Lenovo became the world's third-largest PC maker behind H-P and Dell when it acquired IBM's personal computing division in 2005 -- but poor sales in 2008 pushed it into fourth place after arch-rival Acer, a Taiwanese company.
In the U.S. and Europe, Lenovo focused on corporate sales rather than home computers, an approach that fell apart when the global recession hit corporate budgets for IT purchases.
After cutting costs, Lenovo revised its strategy, mainly by focusing on domestic sales in home-market China until the U.S. and Europe showed signs of a rebound. That recovery strategy appears to be working.
Last month, Lenovo posted its strongest results in six quarters -- and its second consecutive quarter in the black -- with a net profit of $79.52 million for the final three months of 2009.
Lenovo has also gained momentum from product launches like the Skylight, Lenovo's first smartbook, the IdeaPad U1, a scarlet red notebook with a detachable screen and the super-thin IdeaCentre PC.
H-P campaign was critical and consumer success
Previously, Mr. Roman was VP-worldwide marketing communications for H-P's Personal Systems Group, and played a big role in the resurgence of H-P's PC business.
He was hired by H-P in 2005 along with Satjiv Chahil, the senior VP-worldwide marketing, to revive the flagship (but then-flagging) Personal Systems Group, which houses all of H-P's computer products from notebooks and netbooks to monitors and mobile computing devices.
Messrs. Roman and Chahil, working with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, started their mission with hip young red-haired Olympic medal snowboarder Shaun White and filmed his midsection and hands while he seemed to pluck and drag graphics and images from his life onto his personal computer. "The Computer Is Personal Again" campaign was a critical and consumer success, helping H-P overtake chief rival Dell for the No. 1 spot in the world and then the U.S. under the new marketing direction.
Messrs. Chahil and Roman are also credited with pushing a holistic marketing strategy that included incorporating marketing thinking into everything from product design to online ads.
An H-P spokeswoman said Mr. Chahil, who is retiring, is interviewing candidates to replace himself, and Mr. Roman's duties have been divided among several staffers until a replacement is found.
Contributing: Beth Snyder Bulik
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