Matt Codrington is Lenovo’s Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand. He spoke to GadgetGuy about where this growing tech giant is heading – and it is all up!
Let’s look at a very brief history of Lenovo – Eastern speak for connected thinking.
In late 1984 a group of members of the Institute of Computing Technology attached to the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ started an electronics company initially to import TV sets. It failed, and the next venture was to develop a circuit board that would allow IBM-compatible personal computers to process Chinese characters. That did better.
Early in its development, the ‘scientists’ realised that the ‘build it and they will come’ mantra was not working and “marketing and other factors were part of the eventual success of a product.”
By 1990 Lenovo was producing PCs, and its trajectory was set. Part of that was to float the company and adopt Western-style accounting and business practices helping it to become a global player.
In 2005 Lenovo, then still a fairly small player and not well-known outside of China, acquired IBM’s PC business for US$1.25 billion. It now owns IBM names like Idea/ThinkPad/Station/Server as well as distribution rights for PCs to IBM’s customer base.
In 2014, IBM sold its System X and BladeCenter server business to Lenovo, and that kickstarted its own Data Centre business.
It is a great case study about a minnow swallowing a much bigger fish and how to combine Eastern and Western Culture successfully.
Along the way, it has had both organic growth and growth by acquisition. It merged or acquired patents and technology from NEC, CCE Brazil (PC maker), Stoneware (Cloud), EMC (enterprise Storage), DataCore (I/O and storage), Fujitsu, Medion (Aldi tech supplier) and Motorola (mobile phones).
Lenovo and HP battle it out for the world’s largest PC makers. The future for both seems rosy as more people embrace the Windows ecosystem. But the real future lies in diversity – or as Matt put it, “Never standing still”. The remainder of the article is paraphrased to avoid extensive use of what he said.
GG: Matt you have been with Lenovo for twelve years now – that means you would have started soon after the IBM PC acquisition? What has changed for Lenovo and you?
MC: I started with Lenovo in Singapore in 2007 as a Director in Asia Pacific focussed on increasing sales of our ThinkPad notebook across the region. I then went on to work in our Japan business over the next few years. I held some roles that helped me to broaden my experience within the company including Director of Operations Japan, GM Transactional/Director of Product Japan, GM Partner Sales, Executive Director – Product Strategy and then in February 2013 moved to my current role as Managing Director, Lenovo Australia and New Zealand.
Unexpected for a lad from South Australia who started life working in hotels and thought his career lay in hospitality. Through my interests, I fell into ‘tech’ landing a job with HP and later spent five years with Toshiba as Notebook Product marketing manager.
So, for me, it has been a time where I have seen technology mature from 3kg at-best-transportable computing laptops to near 1kg connected, touch-based ultra-lights. I have also seen the almost complete domination of mobile over the desktop in the consumer space.
From Lenovo’s perspective, I have seen it evolve from a growing hardware maker to a disruptive technology company. It’s not just about the Windows PC device any more – it’s a much broader ecosystem across many devices including Android, the Cloud and other ecosystems.
GG: Like you foray into Smart Devices?
MC: You have not seen anything yet. At Lenovo, we focus on placing the customer first and responding to their needs. Our Smart Display (Google Assistant – GadgetGuy review here) is a prime example of this and has sold extremely well since its recent launch. The response to what was the first assistant to add a visual component to Google Assistant has been well above expectations. You can safely say that more and unconventional products will get voice control. We are, OS agnostic supporting a mix of key platforms like the Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Cortana (Windows now supports Alexa).
Next, we will bring in our Smart home products – the Smart Bulb, Smart Plug and Smart camera but these are just the tip of the iceberg. With Lenovo’s scale and manufacturing capability, we will cover a large spectrum of products avoiding proprietary devices and platforms, instead, we using popular, established standards like Wi-Fi, so they are going to work with most mainstream interfaces like Google Assistant and Amazon Alex.
We will also work with partners like Arlo, TP-Link and others to leverage their technology and our global distribution presence. And we are going to extend that into the smart office with ThinkSmart devices like collaboration hubs and Windows IoT embedded devices.
GG: You recently captured a Jedi. What was all that about?
Well GG reviewed that so you know it’s all about a mix of Virtual reality and Augmented reality. Don a headset and battle the Sith Lord with your lightsabre right there in your living room. We have now also launched some exciting VR products like the Mirage Solo and Mirage Camera based on Google Daydream that can take you to exciting virtual worlds, accelerate learning and development or even assist in healing the sick.
And in other parts of the world, we have already many more products that may come here if there is a market. The point is that we want to bring this new tech to consumers at the right price to allow them to make the most of it.
What are you doing differently in Australia?
At Lenovo, we believe that “Different is Better” and this is at the centre of everything we do. While we have some good input into the hardware design for products sold in Australia, we have also focused on incubating or investing in local support and services. Now, we are actively supporting health initiatives, home care, automotive and playing a role in developing software and services for many different types of vertical markets. For example, we are working with a global Fortune 500 sister company, on developing how smart cities work.
Locally, we have a proven track record in managed services area that can be anything from the provision of PCs to complete 24×7 monitoring and technical system management including DaaS (Device-as-a-Service). Others are learning from our experiences to adopt similar successful service models.
We provide the conduit between the Australian customer and Lenovo globally. This is an active role in influencing technology, especially in the education sector and how we can build better products for our customers.
Plus let me put it on record – the technology industry needs to take the best from everywhere. With entrepreneurial origins from China, a strong US influence with the acquisition of the IBM PC business and an exec team with nationalities from eight different countries located across the US, Asia and Europe we are well positioned to leverage global diversity and open thinking, so important to building a sustainable, diverse strategy.
GG: Australian business comprises 95% micro to small business. What are you doing there?
We remain very focussed on our SMB customers – recently we launched our Lenovo Pro website. It’s aimed at new SMB customers and those who currently purchase directly from Lenovo. Many SMBs buy consumer products that don’t always work in business environments. We want to provide these customers with a better buying experience and greater flexibility through the Pro Store.
We also have many existing SMB customers that are well-served by our extensive network for channel partners. 95% of our business is through the channel, and we are continuing to invest heavily in the channel as a priority.
A great resource for SMBs is our ThinkFWD microsite. Guest experts provide useful content on things like mobility, security, digital transformation, productivity and more that SMBs can read and understand.
GG: What excites you at the moment?
What excites me at the moment is things like our work in new areas of tech like how we can support using the blockchain to make our customer’s transactions not only much more secure but much simpler. Blockchain is not just about financial ledgers. It can be for warranty and inventory tracking, reporting and even analytics.
Then you have Big Data analytics answering questions we have not even thought of asking yet when we help customers approach it the right way. Big Data uses powerful computing to unlock trends and insights found in huge amounts of information (and the fact that we are the largest global supercomputer vendor) is an exciting place to be.
Our work in Australia with the University of Adelaide (my hometown) on the Phoenix High-Performance Computing service is exciting because it uses this exact premise to significantly shorten the time it takes to research a doctorate for example.
So too is the amount of computing power with our Lenovo NeXtScale system at the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) based at the Australian National University in Canberra. It provides support to organisations including the CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology.
Last December, the Australian government announced Australia’s highest performance supercomputer for the National Computational Infrastructure National Facility (NCI-NF) in Canberra. It is a Fujitsu-Lenovo system powered by Xeon Broadwell CPUs, Nvidia P100 GPUs and Xeon Phi KNL processors supporting researchers in 35 universities, five national science agencies, three medical research institutes, and industry.
GG: Aren’t you competing with IBM here?
Not really. We bought the IBM x86 server business in 2014, and this is an extension of that. IBM remains focussed on its cloud, analytics, and service delivery.
Lenovo Data Centre Group is now the world’s largest supercomputing provider supplying 23.4% of the Top 500 companies needs.
And that is what is most special about Lenovo. It is a truly agile company taking the next opportunities and very quickly turning them into a reality. I see it as a next-generation powerhouse and will only keep investing to grow technology – faster and better, and easier to use.
GG: Earlier you mentioned 5G and WOA. Care to tell me more?
5G will change the world. When it delivers mobile broadband speeds equivalent to today’s NBN – it can increase network capacity 40 times over 4G. It can provide sustained high speed, high capacity, low latency networks anywhere, anytime on any device. It will open up possibilities for tech manufacturers like Lenovo to offer a new generation of devices that can meet new expectations and opportunities. It will shrink the world (communications wise) and change where and how we work and play. It will enable IoT everywhere, more intelligent cars, on-demand entertainment and so much more.
Windows on ARM (WOA – now
WOA is really the next step to a new computing format that over time will replace the laptops of today. 5G is going to enable smaller, lighter always cloud-connected devices.
GG: Does Lenovo do anything to give back to the community?
At the same time, we drive technology, engaging with the community is also super important.
At the senior executive level, a good CSR program helps leaders step outside the usual profit-and-loss paradigm to get behind good causes out in the communities in which we operate. On the people side, the visibility of the leadership team rolling up their sleeves, getting involved and enabling the wider team to do the same is hugely engaging for employees. It galvanises everyone’s positive attitudes, focusing the company on a common, important goal while reducing the typical hierarchies within the company.
The effect on employee loyalty, motivation and retention from CSR initiatives is tangible. The biggest impact I’ve seen from CSR is the effect it has on employees. Employees are very proud to be involved in these initiatives. Over the years, I’ve been told more times than I can count that employees are proud to work for an organisation where the commitment from management on social issues is evident and on display. This is about culture, and it’s about enabling people to bring a greater purpose into the workplace and get hands-on with the issues they are passionate about.