MORRISVILLE, N.C. – The abrupt announcement last week that Mary Ma was stepping down as chief financial officer at Lenovo could be a sign of internal wrangling among the PC company’s management.

At least that’s the word from Forbes magazine.

“Her retirement as chief financial officer, ostensibly for unspecified ‘personal reasons,’ probably signals the end of Lenovo’s effort to merge its mostly China-focused operations, along with a Chinese management culture, with IBM’s America-centric international PC businesses, and the beginning of a phase that will focus more on cost-cutting and boosting efficiency,” wrote Shu-Ching Jean Chen out of Forbes’ office in Hong Kong.

Ma, whose Chinese name is Ma Xuezheng, is only 54 years old and has been with Lenovo for 27 years. She also has been widely regarded as not only one of the most powerful women in China but also in the world. In fact in 2005 and 2006 Forbes ranked her as one of the globe’s most powerful female executives.

When Lenovo purchased IBM’s personal computing unit in 2005, Ma played a crucial role.

Ma’s departure was disclosed even as Lenovo reported a quarterly profit of $66 million that far exceeded analysts’expectations. The profit news also triggered a 15 percent surge in Lenovo stock.

But Ma is likely to be missed.

“Her straight-taking style and fluency in English have won her many fans in the financial markets,” Forbes said. “Over the years, she has built a reputation as a no-nonsense, trustworthy businesswoman, and analysts thought she had a firm grip on the company’s finances.”

A source cited as a “senior company employee” at Lenovo told Forbes: “It might be a good time for her to retire when Lenovo seems to turnaround. But definitely it is a big loss to Lenovo as she is so instrumental to molding different cultures.”

Ma was more than just a Lenovo executive, however. She also had become a symbol of China’s private enterprise efforts. In fact, the prestigious McKinsey Quarterly published a lengthy interview with her in its April issue.

“The success of [the IBM] deal, heralded as a signal moment in China’s transition from a developing to an industrial economy, was due in no small part to Lenovo’s energetic senior vice president and CFO, Mary Ma,” wrote Gordon Orr and Jane Xing.

Ma told the reporters that cultural integration between companies of the east, such as Lenovo, and of the west, such as IBM, is quite a challenge.
“These East-West cultural differences are built into our identities from a very early age and affect the very basic ways that people interact,” Ma told The McKinsey Quarterly. “Many Chinese companies still don’t realize how much a long-term effort is needed for cultural integration at this level.”