It’s only been a matter of months since Thibault Dousson took the reins as GM Southern Africa at Lenovo, but his experienced leadership is already having impact as the company strives to maintain its position as one of the leading IT vendors in the region.
Bordering on industry veteran status, Dousson has been in IT for almost two decades, most of that period at HP where he rose through the ranks to head up the local subsidiary of HP Inc, and brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and new ways of thinking to Lenovo. But he’s the first to admit that he’s inherited a pretty sleek operation – one that requires a little tweaking here and there, not a company that needs any radical changes and a major overhaul.
In his role as GM, Dousson is responsible for the South African and SADC regional markets and says he has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
“One thing that has really stood out for me is the fact that Lenovo spotted the benefits of having local people run local operations,” he says. “It means that wherever in the world the company opens an office, it is always quick to adapt to that particular country’s culture and ways of doing business.”
Dousson is also responsible for all four business units within Lenovo in the region: Mobile Business Group (MBG); Data Centre Group (DCG); PC and Smart Devices Group (PSDG); and Lenovo Capital and Incubator Group (LCIG).
“Looking at the various business units, in smartphones [MBG] we’re currently sitting at Number 4 in terms of market share,” he explains. “It’s a really hard business to be in, but we’re focusing more on it and being really active in terms of innovation. What we’ve seen launched into this market is really exciting. So, yes, it is a tough market, but it’s an exciting one for us and we fully expect to improve our ranking in it.”
The Data Centre Group is relatively new territory for Lenovo, but Dousson scored a major coup when he secured the services of another HP veteran, Lorna Hardie, to head up this division.
“When Lenovo was reviewing its business and looking at acquisitions a year or so ago, it decided that the data centre was the way to go,” he says. “And, at the time, IBM was looking to sell off its x86 and storage business. It’s interesting for me because the group came about from a single acquisition – Lenovo decided to invest more in people, skills and enhanced innovation in this area to make it successful rather than acquire more companies and product lines.
“In South Africa, we took Lorna (Hardie) on to drive this business which is a huge bonus for us,” he adds. “She is a great professional, has very good knowledge and understanding of the South African and SADC market, and knows how to sell solutions. At the moment, DCG is mainly about x86 and storage hardware, but we will be fine-tuning that side of the business as we move into the hyper-convergence space, beefing up the team and the necessary expertise.
“It’s going to take a bit of time – the sales cycles are a lot longer in this sector – but I have little doubt we are going to see some great business,” he says. “I’m excited because I know what Lorna and her team can do.”
With PSDG, which Lenovo has dominated as the global Number 1 vendor over the past few years, Dousson says it is a case of business as usual, although with a bit of a twist in the Southern African territories.
“In the PC market it’s very competitive and there is a lot of convergence happening,” he says. “There are basically three major brands that dominate this market – Lenovo, Dell and HP – and, worldwide, we have adopted a strategy of ‘attack and protect’ which will continue for the foreseeable future.
“In South and Southern Africa, though, we have something different to do,” he says. “The market is very different in this region and we are going to be a little bit more clever in the way that we approach it. Graham Braum (Dousson’s predecessor and now head of MBG Africa) almost tripled Lenovo’s market share when the market wasn’t really growing. Now, we want to focus on continuing to grow our market share through our partners. We want to make sure they see the true value in our channel programme and how they themselves can be more profitable with the Lenovo brand.
“We’ve invested heavily in brand equity,” he continues. “Too many times, people buy a PC or laptop based solely on price – we’re looking to change that. Yoga, for example, is a top-notch and well-advanced technology. That’s the kind of areas where we are putting our money on the table so that people realise that.”
LCIG, founded last year with an initial $500-million start-up fund, he adds, will be a key player in ensuring innovation and reliability within the Lenovo product lines.
“It’s all about a level of trust and we need to bank more on that,” he adds. “We are a 100% channel-committed organisation and partners, as well customers, have to trust that we’ve got their backs. Our partners, in particular, need to know that we’re not going to try and squeeze them out of a deal and that they can sleep easy when they are dealing with us.”
While Lenovo has achieved some whirlwind growth over the past few years in the local market, Dousson feels it is time for a more consolidated approach, looking to solidify its existing market share with more tempered, steady growth.
“Obviously, we are still focused on growth, but it is not just about that market share win,” he explains. “It’s about a more measured approach where we maintain current market share and start to get some good returns. I inherited a great operation and it’s simply a case of refining the strategy a little, being a little more subtle, and where we look to invest more in our distribution infrastructure and channel where it makes sense.
“It’s about a more balanced approach,” he says. “Where a deal makes sense, we go for it; where it doesn’t, we don’t.
“Where we’re trying to get to is to maintain the 26% market share which we have, but with a bit more stability,” Dousson continues. “Lenovo’s performance is up and down – one day 29%, the next 21%. There’s a 5% variance up or down almost every quarter. That’s a variation that costs money in terms of stocks, stock ageing and so on. We want to start managing that better so that our distributors can spend less on stock and more on selling. Just managing this more efficiently can increase people’s profits.
“By the same token, the less time we at Lenovo have to spend on managing stock, the more time we have to create more ‘pull’ in the market.”
And Dousson has every confidence in the team at Lenovo to achieve these objectives.
“I couldn’t be happier [with the team],” he says. “I knew Graham [Braum] before I joined, but I had no idea about the team of young people he had put together at Lenovo who do their jobs so well. You can see the energy.
“They sometimes need a little direction, but that’s what I think they were hoping for when I joined,” he continues. “And so far it is working well. One of the problems faced by companies which experience a rapid gain in market share is the entrepreneurial spirit that develops because there are so many variables. But if you put too many processes in place, you can stifle this spirit because it becomes too structured. You’ve got to find the right balance. Everything is about balance.
“It’s like a sauce,” Dousson adds. “A pinch of salt … a little pepper … perfect. It’s about tweaking and I think if we do that well, it can only be beneficial for both us and our partners.”