One of Asia’s most recognisable businessmen, Liu Chuanzhi, dubbed as the “Pioneer of Chinese capitalism,” is the winner of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at CNBC’s Asia Business Leaders Awards (ABLA).
“I feel inadequate and humbled, especially when compared to past winners,” Liu says about receiving the award.
The Chinese entrepreneur founded Legend, which later was renamed Lenovo , in 1984. At the time, Liu who was a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, when he and 10 engineers borrowed $25,000 from the state-backed institute to start their own computer business.
“As China was a closed economy then, computers were massive, but the functions were extremely limited,” says Liu, in a “Managing Asia” interview.
Red tape was one of the initial hurdles to becoming a PC maker in China, Liu says, noting that merely winning approval from authorities to be permitted to manufacture computers was difficult.
But Liu persevered and after much trial and error, in which the company reportedly tried its hand at importing televisions and selling digital watches before changing strategy to concentrate on producing its own products, introduced its first own-branded PC in 1990.
The first Legend-brand server appeared in 1995 and the first laptop in 1996. By 1999, Lenovo was Asia-Pacific’s top PC vendor. Now, after three decades in business and amid stiff competition from the likes of Dell , Acer and HP , Lenovo is the world’s biggest PC manufacturer.
From the start, Liu was adamant that the state institute should have no say in the management of the computer business it had helped fund. Having gone through the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, he tells CNBC that he had often “felt restricted by the institutional set up in China.”
His lists his top priorities in business management as decision-making authority, allocation of finances and management of human resources.
Although the 72-year-old entrepreneur has been steadily relinquishing his leadership role in Lenovo since 1999, entrusting the care of the company to CEO Yang Yuanqing, Liu is not resting on his laurels.
Liu is now the chairman of Legend Holdings , which is Lenovo’s parent company, and regularly offers advice to other entrepreneurs and business leaders in which he stresses the importance of foresight.
“With the current unprecedented uncertainties in global markets, I suggest that entrepreneurs should observe these uncertainties and act before them, do what they must do to move the business forward,” Liu says.