Lehigh University
Lehigh University


To build a successful multinational business, build trust, says former CEO of Lenovo Group

Bill Amelio ‘79

The way of doing business and making goods has changed, said Bill Amelio ‘79, former CEO of Lenovo Group, the world’s fourth largest computer manufacturer.

“Labels don’t mean as much as they used to. Products and services may, in fact, be labeled ‘Made in Australia,’ ‘Made in the United States,’ ‘Made in China,’ ‘Made in Switzerland,’ but the fact of the matter is, in this interconnected world that we live in, most products should really be labeled, “Made Globally.’”

Amelio said that by 2020 one billion people will join the ranks of the global middle class, which will be anchored in the Asian continent. During that time China’s middle class will grow seven fold, while its Indian and southeast Asian neighbors will witness an economic rebirth that will start in a new era of globalization.

And companies that aren’t agile enough to embrace the changing dynamics of what Amelio calls “Global 2.0” will have a more difficult time building trust between employees and the communities in which they work.

Amelio offered those thoughts, along with passionate insight about social entrepreneurship and global leadership, during a three-day visit as the Executive-in-Residence at Lehigh’s Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise.

“He’s truly a global pioneer”

Every year, the Martindale Center brings to Lehigh international business and policy leaders who represent a range of worldviews. During their visit, they interact with the entire Lehigh community and engage faculty and staff in a dialogue about critical issues.

This was Amelio’s second trip to Lehigh in the past year. He gave the commencement address during Lehigh’s graduation ceremonies in May 2008.

“Bill understands that today’s corporate leaders have greater obligations to their employees and their communities than perhaps ever before,” says Richard Aronson, director of the Martindale Center. “He sees the potential in everybody and every community, and has spent his career helping to drive change both in the boardroom and in the most remote villages of southeast Asia.

“He truly is a global pioneer and embodies all that a global leader should be,” says Aronson.

Amelio’s worldview is the result of years as a leader in the global electronics industry. He held executive positions with Dell, NCR Corp., and Honeywell. He then joined Lenovo as its CEO shortly after it purchased of IBM’s personal computer division to become a worldwide computer giant.

At the helm of China’s Lenovo, Amelio saw the importance of trust and collaboration on a global scale.

“It was the merging of two companies—but not even two companies, but two cultures that are so very different from one another. How do you get people to work together efficiently?” Amelio asks.

“It’s simple: to have a great organization, you’ve got to build great trust. If you don’t, then it’s not a lasting organization,” he says.

“Students need to … work to make a meaningful difference”

It’s a philosophy he aggressively enacts in his charitable efforts as well. He and his wife, Jamie, are the founders of Caring for Cambodia, a charity that builds state-of-the-art educational facilities for Cambodia’s youth. It’s been a labor of love for Amelio and was the most popular topic of discussion during this visit at Lehigh.

“Jamie and I believe ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ Students need to be bothered by what they see around the world and work to make a meaningful difference,” Amelio says. “This means thinking about solutions that can help solve the problems of the poor.”

He says that time spent on philanthropic projects can be more valuable—and offer more insight into the possibilities of globalization—than the more traditional career path.

“Just because you start off working for a charity doesn’t mean that you have to do it forever,” he reiterated. “I actually think six months to a year will help shape someone’s thinking for a lifetime. I have even seen one visit change a person forever.”

“I actually believe many people want to help, but they just don’t know how or they don’t trust the places they can give,” he adds. “I have seen our philanthropic endeavors at work really motivate the team. It demonstrates that business leaders deeply care and want to give people a hand up.”

It’s a message that resonated with a number of groups and programs he met with during his residency, including Engineers Without Borders, the Lehigh microfinance club, and Lehigh’s Globalization and Social Change Initiative.

“He leads by example”

“What Bill has done is to see the value and power of applying business principles to the non-profit sector,” says Jack Lule, the Joseph B. McFadden Distinguished Professor of Journalism and director of the Globalization and Social Change Initiative.

During the visit, Lule met with Amelio, along with fellow faculty, to discuss social entrepreneurship and philanthropy—issues that students have become particularly interested in as they’ve come to better understand the implications of the global economic downturn.

“Our students live in such a dynamic and social world, and they have a clear devotion to doing something noteworthy and good,” says Lule. “They’ve come to grips with that responsibility, and they want to get involved and drive change, but they often get frustrated with how to go about doing that in an influential way.”

“That’s what Bill has managed to do so well. He knows how to be very focused and not to overreach, not to do too much,” Lule adds. “For Bill, it’s about doing what you can as well as possible.”

It’s a good piece of advice for today’s students, says Lule.

“It’s all about having realistic and achievable goals,” says Lule. “In Bill Amelio’s case, he leads by example.”

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Tuesday, April 07, 2009

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