RALEIGH DURHAM, N.C. – Lenovo has long been known as the force behind the ThinkPad, primarily addressing the business professional space, but in recent years, changes in computing needs have shifted greater emphasis to consumer products and applications.
Enter Mike Abary last August, who as a longtime employee with Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony Electronics and more recently Samsung, is looking to significantly build on Lenovo’s sales to consumer computing device users.
In his past roles, Abary spent much of his time addressing the rapidly evolving consumer computing markets and the entertainment services that made such products more compelling.
At Sony, Abary held positions as senior VP of the company’s IT products division, senior VP for Sony’s home division, and head of Sony’s Home Entertainment unit.
Abary left Sony for rival Samsung Electronics in 2012 to take over consumer IT product marketing and mobile computing as senior VP.
Last August, Abary arrived at Lenovo as North American consumer business VP.
In his interview with TWICE, Abary outlined his plans to adapt his skill sets into taking Lenovo higher.
TWICE: Lenovo has enjoyed a strong growth ride internationally in recent years. What’s your primary mission coming into the North America operations?
Mike Abary: I’ve been brought in to run the consumer business, and that concerns consumer retail as well as our direct-to-consumer retail business. Where the Lenovo consumer business has been is [maintaining] a fairly fast start since conception of the business in North America. Based on the direction that the company is going in overall globally, a lot of the things that are happening in terms of natural growth as well as growth through acquisition, they really expect the business transformation to take the North American consumer business from where it’s at today to a significantly higher level. That’s essentially what I’m here to do, and that’s what appealed to me about joining Lenovo.
TWICE: Studies show Lenovo has been building its share of the global PC market, and that appears to be in growth mode in the U.S. Is that something that you think can be sustained?
Abary: A lot of folks were writing off PC, based on the significant growth of other devices in the market, especially tablets. And the place that I came from was definitely one of those companies that was writing off PC, and I will tell you that I was never a believer in the death of PC. My belief is that PC will continue to be a sustainable business and that there will continue to be consolidation in the industry, which will bode as a great opportunity for Lenovo to continue to capture share and to continue to sustain its leadership position. I’m very optimistic that the overall PC industry will remain relatively robust over the near term. So I’m probably one of those folks who’s more bullish than anything else.
TWICE: At Sony you were involved in building the foundations for entertainment distribution over the Internet. Is that something you see having any application where Lenovo is headed?
Abary: What’s happening at Lenovo is that not only is there a core IT competency that we can build upon in PC and IT infrastructure, such as low-end servers or x86 servers, but in regards to consumer we have a re-invigorated roadmap on devices like tablets that are going to show up as early as our spring cycle next year. We have the pending acquisition of Motorola, which is still slated to close by year end, and when you have a combination of core IT competency, tablets and phones, certainly it creates an opportunity to create an ecosystem around those devices. Entertainment or apps that are focused on content are certainly one of those opportunities.
The Yoga tablet that we just launched is the only tablet with a built-in pico projector. Obviously, there is a notion around the conception of that product that it is meant for entertainment. Most tablets are consumption devices. The No. 1 thing that people do on their tablet and growing is watching videos. Where that used to be short-form 30-second clips, is now longer-form TV shows and movies.
Se we wanted to show a different way of entertaining using a tablet device.
TWICE: What is your biggest challenge coming into your new role?
Abary: There are fairly high aspirations that we have for the consumer business here at Lenovo, and I think that one of the things that we have to do is build up the Lenovo brand from a consumer standpoint. We’ve done a wonderful job with that on the commercial side with ThinkPad, and one of the biggest challenges we have ahead is to create the brand and brand presence to the consumer demographic that we are targeting.
First and foremost, we’ve got to proportionally increase our investments in marketing, relative to the growth that we expect. So more investments that you are going to see from us will be in brand building. We’ve introduced Ashton Kutcher as “our product engineer” to help us to promote the products, and while he may not be as well known a presence globally, he is certainly a major presence here in North America, and we plan to leverage him to associate his tech knowledge and expertise to Lenovo.
The second thing we are going to do is work very closely with the channel and our retail partners in regards to showing that Lenovo is a brand with a lot of presence in retail. This is both online and offline, so this involves not only our brick-and-mortar partners but our online partners as well. We are also going to over invest in areas like digital marketing. Obviously, having great consumer products is a given. Our innovation in that area — like the Yoga tablet with pico projector and the Yoga 3 — are some examples of how we are going to use innovation to build our awareness through great consumer devices to represent our brand well.
TWICE: The Chromebook business has been one of the fastest-growing segments of the business. How are you addressing that?
Abary: Our Chromebook roadmap for the coming year is quite robust. We are committed to that category, and you are going to see Lenovo play there in a fairly significant way. Where the category is doing well is mostly in the education space, and, more specifically, K-12. We have seen significantly robust growth coming from that vertical for Chromebooks, and that was the case even at my former company [Samsung]. The reason why is because the price points are very competitive, for budget-constrained vertical segments, and, second, Cloud-based computing that is not reliant on a conventional operating system is conducive to education. So the solution itself makes sense for that segment.
TWICE: What are Lenovo’s plans for the holiday season that’s upon us?
Abary: We are focused on the continued innovation of our products, like Yoga. We are going to ensure that we are present and making the investments in the spaces that we need to in order to build our brand. We are going to participate in holiday promotions. So you are going to see more activity from us, mostly around the consumer business, given that it’s on the holiday season. We are working with retailers now on holiday promotional activity. They’ve seen from us greater participation in holiday activity than perhaps the prior year. You will see that plus more going right into next year as we continue to grow our consumer business more significantly.