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What American Businesses Could Learn from Lenovo’s CEO

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Wednesday September 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments

Lenovo_Yang_Yuanqing_Natalie_Behring_World_Economic_Forum_2008The chief executive officer of Lenovo, Yang Yuanqing, may be on to something.

For the last two years, the CEO of the world’s largest computer manufacturer has given away a substantial chunk of his bonus to employees. Last year, he donated $3 million to his hourly employees. This year, his gift is expected to round out at about $3.25 million.

Lenovo’s Yuanqing: ‘Leads by example’

News of Yuanqing’s decision hit the airwaves immediately. Within hours, it was major news here in the United States. One supporter tweeted: “Our CEO leads by example – really proud to work for him.”

Kobe Bryant, who has partnered with Lenovo, seconded the sentiment. “This is why I partner with Lenovo #lead #inspire #standingO …”

While it wasn’t revealed just how much Yuanqing received in total as a bonus, the $3.25 million will reportedly equal about one full month’s pay per employee in China – far better than what many employees in North America receive as Christmas bonuses.

Generosity: A growing trend?

Yuanqing isn’t the first to give away a portion of his bonus, however. In March 2012, Marcus “Notch” Persson, designer of the indie game Minecraft and founder of Mojang, gave away $3 million to elated employees. The Swedish game designer had decided to share his pre-tax stock dividends with those who had supported his endeavors.

Lenovo_Beijing_R&D_Campus_CorymgrenierLord Simon Wolfson, CEO of the UK’s largest clothing chain, Next, followed suit in April of this year with a $3 million bonus that he distributed among thousands of employees.

“… Perhaps, we can all look to this as an example of selfless generosity,” one writer suggested, “and emulate it in kind.”

Indeed. Each one of these generous acts is worth tweeting about. They remind those employers who haven’t thought about such steps that successful leadership is just as much a team effort as crafting a successful product. At a time when workers in 58 cities across the U.S. are striking for a living wage, Yuanqing’s gesture carries its own important message.

An investment in staff, an investment in equity

But there were also some key benefits to be gained with this gesture.

  1.  Companies do better when employees are happy about their jobs. A 2010 Gallup study determined that an unhappy staff can foreshadow a downturn in profits.
  2. Generous acts speak well for a company. Lenovo’s name was rebroadcast by media (including by Twitter supporters) hundreds of times yesterday once the decision was announced, overshadowing even its own product promotions.
  3. A respected company means valuable equity. No surprise: Lenovo’s stocks were up a day after the announcement, by 1.7 percent.

None of this takes away from Yuanqing’s generosity. It simply reinforces why Lenovo is at the top of the market right now, and why, here in North America, we could take some leads from such uncommon benevolence.

Photo of Yang Yuanqing, CEO of Lenovo, courtesy of Natalie Behring, World Economic Forum

Photo of Lenovo R&D headquarters, Beijing courtesy of Corymgrenier


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  • Dave Shires

    This is indeed a very good move, but at the end of the day, this shouldn’t be an act of charity, this should be standard practice when a company is doing well. We are still looking at an insanely warped system when CEOs take home multi-million dollar paychecks…. the first people paid in a good year should be the employees, it should be set up to be automatic – not a “selfless act” that the CEO decides on a whim from his high horse.

    • J_N_Lee

      Thanks for your comment Dave. Great point. I guess the question to ask then, is how to inspire businesses to think of that standard practice as having as much media return as the act of “giving away” a part of one’s bonus. This approach garners a lot of positive results. How do you convey to businesses that paying employees above the minimum necessary garners even better returns (in profit as well as that golden media hour) for the company?