July 26, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Business NewsFiona O’Brien is the striking Country Manager of Lenovo Ireland. Starting her career at IBM aged nineteen, in less than ten years she journeyed from junior marketing dept. to senior management, rising to become the CM of Lenovo, following their purchase of IBM PC.
IrishDev.com met Fiona at Bean Scene on Haddington Road in Dublin, a trendy technorati café. (Coffee and coders do go hand in hand and from our table we spotted Text 100, Hibernian Group and Unitech representatives amongst others)
Born in Dublin Fiona grew up in a small family and attended the Presentation Sisters school before at only sixteen years old being awarded a Business & Marketing degree by Trinity College. Her first marketing job, in the childcare industry gave her a taste for success. There her manager rewarded volume sales with a king sized Mars chocolate bar.
Quite literally with the taste of success in her mouth Fiona moved to IBM. Still aged only nineteen she had been recommended by a friend for a three month contract. IBM had looked for recent graduates not realising that a decade later Fiona would run their business.
At IBM her first influence was Noel Mullens a gifted sales manager. Described by Fiona as a “fantastic relationship developer”, he promoted discretion and instilled respect for relationship management as a foundation of modern business and marketing. Tricks of the trade and a manager that refused to allow ostentatious behaviour (No IBM’er ever arrived in a BMW or a Mercedes under his tenure) coloured Fiona’s earlier years.
Smart and practical, Fiona built her career at IBM, moving quickly to management where she excelled in both the software and hardware divisions of the business, notably overseeing the famous Web Sphere brand during the heady dot com days. Speaking French, English and now starting Chinese, she worked terms at IBM’s Milan and Paris offices before returning to Ireland to become PC Division boss for IBM’s hardware offering in Ireland.
During the 90’s, a world away, a similar meteoric rise to fame and fortune was taking place.
Unknown to Fiona or a young Chinese man named Yuanqing Yang (pronounced Wan-shin); their worlds were set to collide.
Rewarding excellence is never a bad idea and back in Dublin Fiona hadn’t stopped excelling at her job. Already recognised by the IBM Top Achievers programme, her next IBM assignment was to Hawaii where instead of the office, she enjoyed the Four Seasons and in place of work, a serenade by singer James Taylor.
O’Brien’s success is significant and enviable but as her first mentor taught her, success is built on foundations of hard work and delivering better than expected results.
To achieve her goals Fiona typically starts her day at 07:30, scanning email and responding to issues before the work day starts. Between nine and six are described by her as hectic and it’s interesting to note that from her experience in hardware and software divisions, she feels hardware more frenetic, more challenging. Twelve hours later the work day ends at 19:30.
By 2001, Chinese Yuanqing Yang had been appointed CEO and President of Lenovo. Only recently turned 40, he had begun working for the business less than twenty years earlier as a retail sales assistant. Now president of the 3rd largest PC manufacturer in the world he looked to expand towards number 1.
When Yuanqing bought IBM PC he offered his new staff the option to move to Lenovo or remain at IBM. The majority of staff opted to move and today senior Lenovo management is mostly composed of ex-IBM executives, including Gareth Hansford, who became the General Manager for the UK, Ireland and South Africa.
Encouraged by Gareth in the UK and Milko Van Duijl (President of Lenovo EMEA), Fiona took the reign as Irish Country Manager. Direction and Strategy always excited Fiona and led her towards management roles but building the Lenovo brand and positioning it correctly was a new, positive challenge.
“At IBM, product reputation and company name counts for a lot. Tough sales always had the logo to fall back on but at Lenovo we are starting at the bottom as a brand and establishing our reputation of quality and service,” said Fiona.
Dell & HP are in the targets but despite massive financial backing and a global brand to leverage there are still challenges to growing Lenovo. “The PC market is about average return and while competition keeps us agile, the price of competition is an extremely fast work life,” says Fiona.
She continues, “Daily, my first focus is shipping and service coverage but beyond PC sales in the local market, my Irish business includes International telesales, a single point of contact for the EU, a dedicated B2B team and a company wide Web Development centre.”
Close to the top Fiona reports to Gareth & Milko in EMEA, then to William J. Amelio and Yuanqing globally.
“I’ve new role models. Bill Amelio for strategy; he was hugely inspiring at our management meetings, fully understanding the risks and the marketplace. The passion of China, Mary Ma global CFO and of course Yuanqing, who recently taught himself English in under a year!” said Fiona explaining how being the boss at Lenovo has changed her life.
O’Brien is passionate, explaining, “There are fantastic opportunities for young people to rise through the ranks. We have a global President that sold his first PC less than 20 years ago”.
Add that to an Irish Country Manager still in her twenties and Michael Dell better beware.