Weibo: Lenovo, Xiaomi Company Culture; Ice Buckets For All

Tech execs get wet for ALS

Corporate culture is seldom on public display for most of China’s top tech firms, even though such culture often determines the success or failure of a company and is well known to industry insiders. The internal cultures at PC giant Lenovo (HKEx: 922) and smartphone sensation Xiaomi were the subject of chatter in the blogosphere this past week, as executives from inside and outside the companies discussed the less visible side of these well-known names. In Lenovo’s case, the talk came from a company executive herself, on the release of her new book. The latter saw a couple of outside executives comment on less attractive elements behind the inside culture at China’s hottest smartphone maker.

Meantime, the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge” was also all over the tech sphere, with nearly every major executive mentioning the topic on his personal microblog. Many also took the plunge that raises money for a rare neurological disease, but has also been derided as little more than a publicity stunt.

Let’s begin our weekly Weibo round-up with a series of posts from Lenovo senior vice president Gina Qiao, whose new book “The Lenovo Way” was just released on Amazon last week and officially goes on sale this week. Qiao, who has worked at Lenovo for 23 years, writes on her microblog about her own excitement at the book’s release, marveling at the fact that her first book was in English rather than her native Chinese. (microblog post)

I haven’t seen the book, but it sounds potentially interesting as it discusses the many challenges Lenovo has faced in a globalization drive that saw it rise from a domestic powerhouse to the world’s top PC seller in just a decade. In that process, Lenovo has made a number of major acquisitions in diverse markets ranging from the US and Germany, to Japan and Brazil, bringing in very different corporate cultures with each of those purchases.

As an author myself, I can relate to Qiao’s own excitement at her book’s new release. I’ve had a look at her Amazon page, and “Lenovo Way” is only ranked at around 180,000 right now, though I expect it will rise. There are only 4 reviews now, and not surprisingly all are filled with praise and 5-star ratings. Hopefully we’ll see some more thoughtful reviews come out, with some discussion of a respected corporate culture that has made Lenovo one of China’s first truly global companies.

Corporate culture at the much younger Xiaomi was also the subject of a couple of microblog posts from company outsiders who were commenting on internal challenges Xiaomi will face in its own globalization drive. Sina (Nasdaq: SINA) vice president Chu Dachen commented on Xiaomi’s increasingly bloated and bureaucratic structure, that includes numerous high-level and mid-level managers. (microblog post)

In another interesting observation, Chu notes how the situation may only get worse in the next few years since no one wants to leave the company. That’s because everyone is waiting for Xiaomi to make the kind of highly anticipated IPO that makes company employees rich. By the time that happens, Xiaomi may indeed be a bureaucratic mess.

Li Yi, a researcher at the Ministry of Industry and Information Industry Technology (MIIT), also didn’t have too much praise for Xiaomi. He posted comments from tech columnist Matt Burns saying the company’s product development culture was one based on copying rather than innovation. (microblog post) He says that fact will make it hard for Xiaomi to distinguish itself on the global stage. I have to say I agree with Li to some extent, since Xiaomi is more noteworthy for its savvy marketing that its remarkable products.

Lastly let’s look quickly at the Ice Bucket Challenge, which many of us are quickly tiring of as celebrities and company executives shamelessly use the phenomenon for their own promotion. For people unfamiliar with the topic, anyone who is challenged can donate money for research on a rare neurological disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); or they can choose to pour a bucket of ice water over their head and post the video on social media.

I’ve been writing this column for a year now, and this Ice Bucket Challenge has attracted the most attention from all types of tech executives during all that time. Tech executives accepting the challenge included Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun, Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) CEO Robin Li, Qihoo 360 (NYSE: QIHU) CEO Zhou Hongyi and Youku Tudou (NYSE: YOKU) CEO Victor Koo, just to name a few.

Amid all the hype and self-congratulation, one contrarian voice came from Sungy Mobile (Nasdaq: GOMO) president Zhang Xiangdong. In his brief post, Zhang said he was challenged but politely refused and instead donated $200 to the ALS foundation that made the initial challenge. (microblog post) I have to praise Zhang for his actions, including his thoughts that charitable acts are a long-term commitment, which seem like a good and needed counterview to all the hype.

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