As part of my series about “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Yu.
Lenovo’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, Small and Medium Business Segment, Intelligent Devices Group, Eric Yu, is responsible for the segment‘s global end-to-end business strategy and execution. He also oversees Lenovo’s global Visuals Business Unit and Accessories Business Units. With 20 years working across different Lenovo business functions, Yu has a track record of understanding business needs and exceeding growth exponentially in various technology segments.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been with Lenovo for more than 20 years, supporting and leading everything from monitors to PCs to accessories and now oversee the company’s small and medium-size business end-to-end business strategy and execution for customers globally.
Throughout my time at Lenovo, I’ve had the opportunity to work across many functions including product promotion, management and operations, and I also spent time in development. These various positions have helped me develop a broad set of competencies and learn different abilities, without which I believe I wouldn’t be where I am today.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have to say there are a lot of people who have helped me along the way, so it’s hard to pick out an individual.
From my experience, it’s clear there are lots of career opportunities within Lenovo and the entrepreneurial spirit we have promotes individual achievement, diversity and inclusion. There is no glass ceiling here. I think it’s the mechanism of our corporate culture that helped me a lot. With the will to grow and the necessary support and ability, success can be achieved anywhere, but a bit of luck always helps!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started at Lenovo, what was the company’s vision, what was its purpose?
Lenovo is a diverse group of forward-thinking innovators, constantly reimagining technology to make the world more interesting and to solve tough global challenges. Our vision is that we will create personal devices more people are inspired to own, a culture where more people aspire to join, and an enduring, trusted business that is well respected around the world. We believe smarter technology can solve problems, create opportunities and transform the way we all live, learn, work and heal, and creates a world where every person and business can reach their full potential through smart technology.
Today, my team and I are focused on adaptability for SMBs. You need to be adaptable for a digital business model, which includes digital collaboration, digital customer experience and digital delivery of services. When it comes to the current situation, companies have had to let go of resources so those that are in the company need to wear multiple hats and take on more responsibility. The right technology is critical to ensure maximum efficiency.
SMB owners will be faced with many choices as businesses reopen and shelter in place orders gradually lift. Considering the right tools, technology and employee assistance to generate success will all be top of mind to ensure SMBs can thrive in the new normal.
To help SMBs grow and be successful, Lenovo is a trusted partner in enabling necessary digital transformations and providing workplace solutions through intelligent devices, software and services. In the new normal, with the change of competitive landscapes and hybrid working environments, SMBs can be more competitive through investment and support of the right digital tools to be more agile, efficient and safer while managing overall costs.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about the Small and Medium Business Segment, PC and Smart Device (PC&SD) Business Group at Lenovo? How do you help people?
At Lenovo, innovation is part of our DNA. It flows through everything we do — from the smartphone in your pocket and laptops in your home office to the servers in your data center, and beyond. We are dedicated to transforming our customers’ experience with technology — and how it, and they, interact with the world around us. We call this Intelligent Transformation. We are setting the stage for what’s possible with technology shaped by Augmented Intelligence, capable of enhancing and elevating human capability.
To dive into how we support small and medium-sized businesses, we have to acknowledge that a more dispersed workforce like the one we are experiencing today, adds extra challenges to productivity, efficiency and security. For example, as IT assets are more widespread, companies are under increased pressure to prevent data breaches and ensure the safekeeping of customer data. More than two-thirds of SMBs experience cyber-attacks, with each attack costing an average of $1.43 million dollars. Yet, one in five SMBs use no endpoint security at all. With the rapid digital transformation of the workspace, companies large and small need to implement a comprehensive, end-to-end security strategy to protect critical data and business technologies. Lenovo recognizes skills shortage in cybersecurity is acute and as a result, our long-standing strategy on security is to design security into our devices, solutions and services from the start. The Lenovo ThinkShield security offerings, for example, are designed with the needs of organizations, ranging from SMBs to the world’s largest and most sophisticated organizations, in mind to provide comprehensive security solutions. From securing the supply chain to device, threat and data protection, ThinkShield leaves no vulnerability unturned. Features like biometric authentication, which was introduced in a ThinkPad back in 2004, have become mainstays of laptop hardware.
The past 12 months have also highlighted the need for highly effective collaboration technology. But this brings another set of challenges. Security aside, the user experience of cloud-based meetings and conferencing has rarely been the highlight of anyone’s day. However, solutions providers such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet have really upped their game and in turn, we had to do the same. Spending many hours per day on video conference calls is exhausting and we took steps to improve that user experience. Improvements in webcam technology, brighter displays and better audio and microphones on laptops are making virtual meetings more enjoyable. Also introducing low blue light technology is helping general well-being by reducing eye strain as research suggests we are working longer hours than ever.
Many users are also considering dedicated personal communications devices such as our ThinkSmart View. Call it a smart display specifically designed for Teams or Zoom meetings, calendar management and chat. These devices remove that collaboration element from your primary workstation, reducing distraction and maximizing multitasking productivity.
At Lenovo, we have the ability to meet SMB customer needs, whatever that may be. A few laptops or a complete end-to-end cloud-based unified communications solution with subscription-based financing illustrates the breadth of our capability. Fulfilling products and services through the channel or Lenovo portals simplifies acquisition, deployment and management. Crucially, it comes down to being close to our customers and understanding their critical challenges and what they need to navigate disruption and thrive in the future.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
The transition to remote work has put immense pressure on small businesses to adapt to a more digital business model. Unfortunately, before 2020 most SMBs were not fully realizing their digital potential with 80 percent of SMBs in the U.S. not taking full advantage of digital tools such as social media, data analytics, e-commerce capabilities, online advertising and internal technologies.
I can’t really identify one single technology that is being disruptive, but a combination of innovations is coming together to improve all aspects of how we do business. As I mentioned, evolutions in collaboration tools and appropriate hardware is certainly making it easier to navigate hybrid working methods. 5G connectivity is finally starting to show its potential, although there is still some way to go for it to become a significant benefit to most. And emerging technologies such as AR/VR and AI are changing the way we approach, analyze and deliver customer experiences.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
In the wake of workplace disruption this past year, we at Lenovo have supported SMBs and knowledge workers with tools and strategies to best support their business needs during the transitional time. We have emphasized the need for digital tools that can be used to adapt to a more digital business model that can help SMBs outlast pandemic shutdowns, but better understand customer experiences, access new markets, innovate through new product offerings, and compete with larger companies. I have no doubt that SMBs will be the driving force of global and local recoveries.
One example of how we pivoted our technology offering was by our SMB customers wanting an optimized user experience (UX) in devices that were lighter and thinner, with useful innovations that improved efficiency and offered new ways of interacting with their core technology. As a result of these insights from our customers, Lenovo revamped its dual-display work laptop, ThinkBook Plus Gen 2i, to be 20 percent thinner and 8 percent lighter, we also increased the innovative E-ink secondary display from 10.8 inches to 12 inches, the biggest E-ink display of any notebook.
However, these innovations will be of little use to end users unless we make it easier to get devices in the hands of SMB owners and employees, and ensure they are supported and managed throughout the product lifecycle. We adapted our services and premier support offerings to be better suited to hybrid working environments and will continue to improve and develop managed services going forward.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Our “aha moments” are deeply rooted in Lenovo’s global research and insights from our SMB customers. At the start of shelter in place in March 2020, we knew that the hardware that needed to be deployed to employees immediately was primarily PCs with SMBs deploying mostly laptops (52 percent), followed by items needed for video conferencing and collaboration such as software (27 percent), smartphones (26 percent) and webcams (22 percent). The customer need was very real and the technology was ready to deliver the right solution at the right time to help users maximize their efficiency and better manage the challenges of work life balance.
In noting the product example discussed earlier, by updating the E-ink display on the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i, this laptop now has the necessary speed, responsiveness, and tablet-style use support to enable an excellent user experience for small business employees. This secondary display added the flexibility and mobility to move around the home and be able to glance at emails, calendar schedules, instant messages without fully opening the laptop, therefore extending battery life. By building these integrations with Windows and Office functionality for the external E-ink screen, Lenovo’s SMB customers achieve what they need for optimal collaboration and a fully functional productivity experience with the laptop.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
It’s important to understand as a leader, especially for small businesses, you must be prepared for change and have the ability to adapt to the evolving needs of your team, business and customers. As a leader, you must lead by example to show your teams how to model appropriate behavior. This can be as simple as treating others with kindness and respect while understanding that the reality of remote work is often blurred with home life. Showing your team how you value them and their contributions by taking small moments to check-in and show you care about them is also critical. Your team’s environment and individual well-being are important when cultivating a supportive culture as a leader.
Furthermore, it’s critical to build trust within your team and encourage team members to hold each other accountable. You can achieve this through team-building exercises, transparent and realistic expectations and ensuring they have the right tools to accomplish the task at hand and the appropriate training to understand how to fulfill their role and requirements. Making sure your team is set up for success as individuals and as a whole is the role of a leader at all times, but particularly in times of disruption.
Finally, as a business leader, it goes without saying that business acumen is a core ability to have to identify opportunities and challenges in order to develop adaptive and agile strategies.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
From my experience, I’ve found transparency helps ease stress when it comes to dealing with change. To help boost morale during this time, I encourage leaders to share how the company is managing the change and what this may mean for the individuals and teams within the company. I would carefully explain the changes, hear team members out and manage concerns as they arise by addressing them with care and honesty and maintaining trust and accountability while working toward ways to improve and remedy any unforeseen issues.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I believe in challenging the status quo, changing what’s possible and rethinking processes that question what you do, how you do it and most importantly, why; this thought process will keep you on your toes and thinking ahead, always with the customer needs at the top of mind. In addition, constantly questioning and challenging yourself helps your company stay relevant, tackle change and navigate disruption. It’s not about your competition, it’s about creating value for your customers.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Some businesses make the unfortunate mistake of resisting change and refusing to evolve, some withhold valuable information from their teams or avoid addressing individual concerns. Some forget to build relationships with customers and focus on the transactional opportunity. To avoid these common mistakes, it helps to put yourself in your team’s and customers’ shoes and imagine how you would want to be treated as a valued team member or customer. It may seem like an overly simplistic strategy, but it can help keep any leader and business grounded.
Businesses should not dismiss the importance of new technology. While it may not always be ready or appropriate for broad adoption, ensuring the business has that agility to adopt disruptive technology quickly can make a significant difference in growth opportunities.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Advancing workplace equality for all — this can be accomplished by offering equal opportunity to all genders, races and people of different cultures or backgrounds. In addition, businesses must strive to implement technology that is developed and designed to be inclusive of various challenges and needs to support a broad range of team members.
- Preparing the next generation of leaders with the right tools, technology and training — SMBs can offer literature, courses, tutorials, technology and training to ensure preparedness.
- Promoting training opportunities for employees who want to grow and learn. Some examples of ways to accomplish this include offering training courses, hosting panel discussions, and creating a STEM program.
- Prioritize adaptability by keeping an open mind, accepting change and finding opportunities instead of challenges in the disruption.
- Striving for inclusion and fostering an environment for growth by building a workplace where people’s talents can be encouraged to grow and enhanced, and their efforts recognized and rewarded.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Change is the only constant in life.” It is a famous saying by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.
Someone with a negative mindset would fear change. If we can look at it positively, it will help us to be more flexible and patient to adapt and learn from the change. I think this is also part of a growth-focused mindset. It is with this mindset that I have never been afraid to try different positions in my career path.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Eric Yu LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eric-yuhai-64b0b011/
Lenovo StoryHub: https://news.lenovo.com/