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Lenovo's Global CIO Arthur Hu on working two jobs and coming up via the helpdesk

“You’re right, I need a new agent!” quips Arthur Hu, a man who since April 2022 combines the role of global CIO at Lenovo with that of CTO of the giant’s Solutions & Services Group (SSG).

A Lenovo veteran of 13 years and CIO for over six of those, he added the latter responsibility (which has a big R&D focus) as part of the company’s push to be known for more than its PCs, servers, storage. phones and tablets. SSG itself augments Lenovo’s ‘New IT’ umbrella that it dubs “Client-Edge-Cloud-Network-Intelligence”, providing an outlet for those that want the Chinese company to offer its broad array of products as service.

Lenovo CIO has also manned helpdesk...

It sounds a lot like at least two jobs for the price of one, but Hu sees logic in the combining of internal transformation with similar advice to clients and it came naturally: “It’s something that’s just really evolved,” he says of his current wardrobe of “multiple hats” to wear -- but it helped that he segued into the company via McKinsey where Lenovo was a consulting client; an experience that gave him deep insight across the company.

“I’d come up through the ranks at Lenovo, rotating through multiple roles from helpdesk to cybersecurity, transformation etcetera and that really helps in becoming a CIO" he says.

"You can see what people need and how the technology you’re delivering is landing.”

As a result, when Lenovo pivoted to solution and services, Hu was able to flip his internal operations knowledge to also think about how things should be done for customers.

History lessons

When Lenovo bought IBM’s PC group in 2005 it was emblematic of the way the world had changed. IBM may have invented one of humanity’s greatest tools for sharing knowledge but margins were tough to come by and the market looked a better fit for China as that country began to flex its tech muscles.

Since, Lenovo has established a truly global brand but it has done far more than just run a tight ship and pass on economies of scale. Its technology is widely respected as well as being hugely commercially popular across supercomputing, cloud and edge, with the company also glued to the number-one position in personal computer sales. And at the same time (think, for example, of its foldable devices) it has developed a name for pioneering design.

Lenovo CIO Hu says that he admires the way Lenovo has shown that there needn’t be physical differences between consumer product glitz and “green screens and clunky interfaces” of enterprise technology; that the enterprise user experience can also be end-user-friendly.

But what is key in his role is to bring together business process transformation with technology, he says.

“I went into management consulting at a time when consulting and digital [were coming together] and people could see how technology could be applied as a competitive weapon to amplify the power and reach of the business model. Then at Lenovo I really had a 360 [view] of digital transformation, infrastructure and end-user management. But senior management doesn’t get excited by technology, it gets excited by outcomes.”

That said, the company’s leitmotif is that “technology drives the future” and Lenovo made “a bet on its future” when it announced last year plans to recruit a further 12,000 staff in R&D.

“We know the future is tied to innovation,” Hu says -- and Lenovo has to blend great products with the efficiencies required of a market that can be a bloodbath for those that miss a beat on manufacturing, supply chains and distribution. (The company recently added factory capacity in new factories in Mexico and Budapest that it described last month as "significantly improving our logistics costs and driving us to be more agile".)

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And over 40% of Lenovo's revenue is now driven by its non-PC businesses. Whilst group revenues were inevitably stung by an sharp ongoing slump in devices, both its SSG and Infrastructure Solutions Group  reported high double-digit year-on-year growth to hit to historical records in its last quarter, reported February 17, 2023. The quarter also saw server revenue grow by 35% year-on-year, making Lenovo the third largest server provider in the world.)

Another bet he is helping to lead on is that a subset of customers will buy its goods as a service, or even better as a managed service. “We know what got us here won’t get us there,” Hu says of the need to evolve and adapt. (Like others in the space Lenovo some years back moved to offering IaaS; letting customers lease hardware services on a subscription and consumption-based basis and building deep partnerships with SAP for managed S4/HANA private clouds, Nutanix for virtual desktop infrastructure etcetera.)

But how about that managing the day job with its shifting internal and external perspectives?

“It definitely does feel like I have multiple roles,” the Lenovo CIO and CTO admits.

“But as CIO I have a very strong teams and that helps me take on fewer roles [and give time back to spend on being a] technology and delivery officer, figuring out how we make these these engines of growth for Lenovo.”

Another lesson comes from the writer Jim Collins with his advice for leaders to know who they want and don’t want “on the bus” in ther teams. Ultimately, he says, having leaders build bridges between seemingly disparate teams means everyone learns and a dimension is added. In the real world though, does anyone ever politely suggest he get back in the box he was in, or is the company particularly open to such hybrid roles?

“It’s more than just being open, I’m being pulled in,” he says. But living that hectic life comes at a cost.

How does he deal with the demands? “In a word, sleep,” he says, adding that he is not someone who can exist on a few hours of rest. Half an hour or more daily exercise is also needed, and he keeps himself on a healthy diet. “Once I paid more attention to what I was eating it was amazing how much more energy I had,” he says.

And with that, it’s back to the day job. Make that jobs.

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