Women in Business: Gina Qiao, SVP of Global HR and Yolanda Conyers, VP of Global HR Operations and Chief Diversity Officer at Lenovo

10/08/2014 07:11 am ET Updated Dec 08, 2014

Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers are co-authors of The Lenovo Way: Managing a Diverse Global Company for Optimal Performance, which tells the remarkable story of how two women from very different backgrounds rose to become leaders in Lenovo's journey to the top.

Known for her wit and humility, Gina Qiao is a powerful role model for female executives striving for excellence in their respective fields. The eighth-highest-ranking female executive in China according to Fortune China, in many ways, Gina's steady climb from secretary to C-suite of the largest personal computer- seller in the world reflects the extraordinary growth story of both China and Lenovo. In her current position, Gina is responsible for Lenovo's human resource strategy, including talent acquisition; building a diverse, global culture; and ensuring the company has the required organizational structures, human resources, policies, practices and programs to execute its business strategy and achieve its vision and aspirations. Previously, Gina has held various leadership roles in marketing, corporate strategy and planning.

Equipped with a strong technical and business background, Yolanda Conyers is the vice president of global human resources operations and the chief diversity officer at Lenovo. In addition to founding the first-ever diversity office for a company of Chinese heritage, she has transformed Lenovo's day-to-day human resources operations by ensuring consistency of processes, systems and data for a complex global company with employees in more than 60 nations.

Throughout her tenure, Yolanda has ensured increasing diversity in the Lenovo workforce and has continually strengthened the foundation of "The Lenovo Way" - a blending of eastern and western business cultures, philosophies and ideas - in a unique and high-impact way that truly defines Lenovo as a next-generation global company.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Gina: Having started my career at Lenovo as a secretary more than 20 years ago, I have had the unique opportunity to grow with the company into the leader I am today. By rising through the corporate ranks at Lenovo to Senior Vice President of Human Resources, I have taken on the responsibility of directing the organizational development of over 54,000 employees across 60 countries. By focusing on overcoming the challenges associated with diversity, taking calculated risks, and always remembering my humble start at Lenovo, I was able to earn my executive position and become a global leader.

Yolanda: In my early days at Lenovo, I faced many challenges not only managing the differences between foreign business cultures, but also in acclimating my family to an unfamiliar cultural environment, having moved to China. Facing these challenges head-on was how I was able to grow personally and professionally. Global leadership requires taking risks, being humble and making a commitment to learning from people who are vastly different than you. In the beginning these were some of the greatest experiences that transformed me into the leader I am today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Lenovo?
Gina: Getting my career started at Lenovo and growing with the company has been a great asset in my professional life, and has aided my tenure at the company. Having witnessed the company culture from all levels of the corporate ladder, I have had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of our employees' thinking which I can use to help further develop our culture and enhance the diversity that we have in the team today.

Yolanda: I have worked in a myriad of areas of business which allows me to have a broader perspective when problem solving. My career in the technology industry started 25 years ago as a Systems Analyst at Texas Instruments. From there I joined Dell, Inc., and gained experience leading a range of departments from product development to sales to human resources, and ultimately rose to the company's executive ranks. I believe this time and experience gave me the foundation to be successful at Lenovo having honed my creativity to solve problems and manage large complex projects.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Lenovo?
Gina: There have been many highlights and challenges throughout my career at Lenovo. Having spent 20+ years with the company you cannot imagine that it would all be smooth sailing! I think one of the key highlights for me would be how I grew from a local manager to become a global leader. It was an enormous learning curve but to be successful was a major achievement. It wasn't always easy and there were challenges along the way such as learning a new language (English), learning how to do business outside of China, and forging new relationships to build a strong business culture. Ultimately, though it has been an exciting adventure which continues today.

Yolanda: The highlights during my tenure at Lenovo have been numerous but I think one of the most notable was being part of the driving force behind the launch of our company culture - "The Lenovo Way". In 2009, Lenovo introduced the "Protect and Attack" business strategy which still remains our strategy today. HR had to identify the right people, build the right capabilities, and design the needed processes to drive performance within this new framework. Our culture also needed to evolve during this period. We had already laid the foundation for our culture, initiating programs to help people recognize, acknowledge and understand the cultural differences that our company has, but more work needed to be done. We had to reassess our values. This work ultimately culminated in the creation of the Lenovo Way, a framework that incorporated both Lenovo's strategy and values. I was part of the executive committee that was instrumental in helping to create this framework, embed these cultural attributes into our daily processes and drive the adoption of our commitment culture around the world. Again, it wasn't easy and we faced many challenges along the way, including breaking down barriers between western and eastern cultural stereotypes, but from each challenge we learned something new and used it to create a stronger culture.

Gina and Yolanda: Another of the biggest challenges for both of us was moving our families across the world and immersing ourselves in a new setting, language, and lifestyle. While the cultural integration and diversity was a challenge, it also became a highlight.
Culture and talent diversity are core Lenovo strengths. To be the most innovative you must leverage the best talent everywhere. By successfully training every employee in the fundamentals of the "Lenovo Way," which consist of five P's: planning, performance, prioritization, practice and pioneering, we can hold true to Lenovo's core strength - diversity.

How can businesswomen use the success of Lenovo and implement the practicalities in their own businesses?
Gina: Our book gives readers the blueprint for how Lenovo made it from a brand that was virtually unknown outside of China, to become number one in PC sales worldwide. Our story shares insights into how we made that happen; how we integrated so many vastly different cultures and corporate styles into one diverse culture. From a practical point of view, businesses can learn from our success on many different levels and I would encourage leaders to always keep an open mind so that you can learn from those around you, listen in order to break down barriers and increase trust, and use the differences within your teams as a competitive advantage, leveraging strengths where they appear. Empowerment of employees is also important and at Lenovo, our core principles are commitment and ownership - "We do what we say and we own what we do." This is a competitive advantage that any business leader can implement.

Yolanda: Many companies struggle with cultural differences and how to bridge the gaps. In the book we share our struggles and how to leverage diverse culture that is respectful of differences while staying focused on the bottom line. To us, diversity is about much more than race or gender; it's about reflecting what our global customer base looks like and thinks like. By taking the lessons we share in the book and putting them into practice, men and women business leaders in any cultural setting can take a "global-local" outlook in their business strategies. By "global-local" we mean hiring the best talents locally to run Lenovo businesses in their own countries, empowering them as they execute plans supported by the strength of a global brand and enterprise.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Gina: Being flexible and taking on new areas of responsibility that will broaden my portfolio of skills and knowledge was an important lesson I've learned. From learning English to taking on several leading roles in various departments at Lenovo, I have adopted a more flexible approach to any challenge that comes my way, always being positive and driving myself outside of my comfort zone. Furthermore, you should always hold yourself accountable, no matter how small the task.

Yolanda: Stepping out of my comfort zone was a common theme as Gina and I shared our experiences managing diversity at Lenovo. We took a huge step taking parallel transatlantic moves and pushed ourselves to new heights. We learned that you can only reach maximum growth, both professionally and personally, by stretching beyond your comfort zone.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Gina: Work/life balance for me is all about being present. While I am at work, I am invested in every conversation, meeting, and interaction to make sure the work is successful and that everyone is heard. At home, I take the same mentality. I leave work at the office and make my family my priority.

Yolanda: Lenovo is generous in allowing me to work from home which enables me to have the flexibility to determine my work schedule. This is particularly helpful as my role involves a great deal of global travel. Working from home is also one of those things that I need to create balance in my life being a mother and executive. This was part of the reason why I was honored with the Working Mother of the Year award in 2009.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Yolanda and Gina: We agree that underrepresentation of women in the workplace, especially in senior level positions, is still a big issue. Even in today's society we still see that it's difficult for women to break into a male dominated board room. There are still incorrect perceptions about what women can and cannot achieve which creates limitations. Furthermore, in some cases women are frowned upon if they act assertively like their male counterparts and, as a result, have to develop a strong but softer approach which again limits their progression. At Lenovo, we are proud to say that 40% of our workforce is female, which is uncommonly high for the male-dominated IT industry. In addition, over 20% of our managers are women.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Gina: I have had mentors throughout my career at Lenovo including Lenovo CEO and Chairman, Yang Yuanqing, who has always believed in me and challenged me with new assignments. Most recently, my mentor has been Yolanda. Together we have mentored each other on the differences and similarities between eastern and western cultures, driving to understand what barriers need to be broken down to ensure that we are more successful in the future. I have personally gained a great deal from this relationship and feel my understanding of different nationalities and cultures has greatly improved.

Yolanda: My mentoring relationship with Gina has provided me with some of the greatest insights of my career. Learning from each other has been second-to-none as an education and has helped me grow as a global leader. Other mentors in my life have also had a profound influence on my career and the direction it took. My mentor in high school, who recognized my knack for math and science, influenced me to take a computer science class and later, pursue a computer science degree in college. It was yet another mentor in college who introduced me to an organization called the National Society of Black Engineers; he said this conference would change my life and he was right - I landed a job with Texas Instruments! This all led to a 25+ year career in high tech companies. I have been a mentor for years and through my mentoring have encouraged many to pursue or stick with engineering during their most difficult times. I would not have been given the career opportunities without an education that was driven by my great mentors.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Gina: I admire women who have enormous strength and the boldness to take on powerful positions while facing adversity. Women who are fierce advocates for just causes and who make a difference in the world. For example, Hillary Clinton is a leading voice on the global stage on behalf of women in the developing world; Oprah Winfrey overcame an impoverished childhood to become one of the world's most influential philanthropists; Ursula Burns became the first African-American woman to become a Fortune 500 company CEO.

Yolanda: My mom is my role model. She helped raise seven children and taught us to value education and treating people right. I admire her strength and her patience, as well as her unshakable faith.

What do you want Lenovo to accomplish in the next year?
Gina: Lenovo is innovating to lead in the PC Plus era guided by its "Plus Strategic Roadmap" focusing on three high-growth opportunities while leveraging favorable market trends. The first is PC + Mobile, our Smart Connected Devices. We start here because everything we do builds off our core PC business. The second is Smart Connected Devices + Infrastructure Devices, forming our Total Device Portfolio. We have a good opportunity to leverage our channel and customer relationships, and share operational excellence between smart connected devices and infrastructure devices, to quickly enlarge our enterprise business. The third is our Total Device Portfolio + Cloud Service, which creates The Lenovo Experience. Here we have an opportunity to deliver a compelling experience and value across our entire device portfolio. We have set the bold target of selling 100 million mobile devices this year, pending the close of the Motorola Mobility and IBM x86 deals. .

Yolanda: Lenovo's investments in Motorola Mobility and IBM x86 servers are pillars for future growth. These investments are logical next steps that extend Lenovo's successful "PC Plus" strategy. Both deals not only bring scale and products, but also key talents that will make us stronger. My focus as Chief Diversity Officer will be to ensure that, once the deals are finalized, the subsequent inclusion of Motorola Mobility and IBM x86 into the Lenovo family is successful. There must be a high focus on culture, values and respect; we must embrace the diversity that employees from these companies will bring.