We all have our burdens to bear, but like Atlas the one carried by Lenovo Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Yang Yuanqing is a massive one: Lenovo’s image as a Chinese company.

Despite all its advertising with the NFL, its smartphones featuring Kobe Bryant and its new tablet campaign with Ashton Kutcher, Lenovo still faces a seemingly never-ending battle to change to become known as an international player with thousands of employees worldwide. It sells PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs and servers in multiple continents. Yet, as The Skoinny has noted before, many stories about Lenovo still label it as “Chinese.”

In these days of constant Chinese bashing and facing the threat of Congressional legislation that could hurt sales, Yang and his executive team know they must fight constantly to change perceptions and attitudes.

Just as he has vowed through his “PC Plus” strategy to transform Lenovo from a PC company to a diversified manufacturer and provider of smart Internet devices from TVs to smartphones and tablets, so has he determined to Change Lenovo’s image. In a slide published as part of Lenovo’s most recent earnings report, for example, Yang cites “global” three times as a top priority:

  • “Global branding”
  • “Global-Local business model”
  • “Global Culture.”

In fact, Yang’s management teams may be one of the most diversified in the world with multiple languages shared at management meetings and executives from China, Japan, Germany, Brazil and eslewhere encouraged to learn English. Chinese is NOT the language of first choice.

Campaigning in D.C.

On Monday, two of Lenovo’s top execs took their image campaign to The Washington Post.

Yang and Jay Parker, who is based in Morrisville at the company’s executive headquarters and who directs its growing North American business. took their message to reporters and editors at The Post.

Yang rarely speaks to U.S. media. To do so at The Post is NOT something to underestimate in importance.

He wanted to speak to a big audience through a widely read publication.

“We are a global company,” Yang told the Post.

The paper noted that Yang “stressed the interconnected-nature of the global technology industry, where a smartphone’s chips may come from the United States or South Korea and its glass screen from Japan or China.”

“We source from the same providers as U.S. companies,” Yang added.

Chipped in Parker: “We don’t characterize ourselves as a Chinese company.”

The Post used the word “tweak” to describe Lenovo’s change-image efforts. But that understates the emphasis Lenovo has placed on convincing consumers and businesses worldwide to look at Lenovo just as it would other international firms – such as a Sony or Samsung. Yes, Sony is based in Japan and Samsung in South Korea. GlaxoSmithKline is a global pharmaceutical firm that happens to be based in London.

Are those companies constantly labeled as Japanese, Korean or British?

Global Brand Key to Sales

The image change is important to Lenovo in its bid to grow sales outside of the Chinese market where it dominates PCs and is a growing force in tablets and smartphones. Brand recognition will help improve sales in the U.S., where it is making major strides ahead of a smartphone launch here next year. Parker has said that Lenovo needs to be a bigger U.S. player in the public’s perception if it is to be successful in the smartphone world ruled by Apple and Samsung. Why else bring in people such as Kobe and Kutcher?

The efforts are paying dividends. The most recent sales data showed that Lenovo has, year over year, increased PC sales in terms of percentage at a much higher rate of increase in the Americas and Europe-Middle East-Asia than in China or Asia Pacific. Lenovo now appears well established as a double digit market share player in the Americas, which is a key to its brand credibility and is a percentage watched closely as the company nears its North America smartphone push.

Lenovo is constantly growing outside of China, adding that manufacturing line in the Triad recently, bringing some customer support jobs back to Morrisville from India and announcing a new R&D lab in Brazil. Its acquisitions and sales strategy have made Lenovo a force to be reckoned with in Europe. The Post noted Lenovo’s various efforts.

Yang is in D.C. for a Wall Street Journal event this week, but stopping by the Post was hardly an accident. Yang is wary of the sourcing legislation that could prevent some federal agencies from buying information technology “from China,” the Post noted.

There’s that “from China” term again.

Yang told the Post that the new bill “is written with ambiguous language.”

Lenovo had just bought IBM’s PC business in 2005 before it got caught up in a huge security dispute over PCs sold to the State Department. Lenovo pointed out time after time that IBM remained an investor for an extended period of time. American investors helped make the $1.2 billion deal happen.

But until recently many, many stories about Lenovo called it a “Chinese company” and made no mention of the executive headquarters in Morrisville.

Perhaps that habit will change.

Should the U.S. be concerned about China? Absolutely.

But should China be concerned about the U.S.?

Does the name Snowden mean anything to you? The NSA?

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers is concerned that America bashing is hurting his company’s sales in China – and elsewhere.

Giving the state of paranoia these days about technology and intelligence gathering, it’s more important than ever for Lenovo to change its image. But Yang and thousands of his employees are native Chinese. They love their homeland just as we do ours. The branding battle must be difficult for them at times. 

However, Yang (who also maintains a home in the Triangle) has made it a point to become a global citizen running a global company.

[LENOVO ARCHIVE: Check out eight years of Lenovo stories as reported in WRALTechWire.]