English-speaking culture confuses Lenovo staff

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When a Hong Kong-based analyst recently called computer-maker Lenovo’s Beijing office and asked for an employee by the English first name on her business card, he got a puzzling response. The operator told him the person did not exist.

Baffled, he called back and asked for the same person in her Chinese name. He was put through to her office immediately.

What the analyst encountered was a Lenovo in flux where the transformation of a corporate culture has yielded occasional moments of confusion even within the company.

Some employees at Lenovo, which acquired IBM’s PC unit last year, now receive internal e-mails from a “John” or “Mary” whom they struggle to identify until they find out their Chinese names.

“In the past, we used to call each other by Chinese names. But now since a lot of our communications involve our US colleagues, some people may find it easier to have an English name,” says one Lenovo employee.

The spontaneous move by staff to adopt English names may be causing slight confusion, but it underlines broader changes in the company’s culture which analysts see as key to its success in managing the acquisition of the IBM unit.

Shortly after the deal, Lenovo hired Bill Amelio, a former Dell executive, to be its chief executive. It moved its headquarters from Beijing to North Carolina and changed the official company language from Chinese to English. It is also establishing a straight-talking culture inside the company.

“Lenovo used to behave like any state-owned enterprise. [But] it has realised that in order to become a true global company, the first step is to drop some of the old habits,” said Randy Zhou, analyst at Bank of China International.

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