Liu Chuanzhi ( 柳传志; Born 29 April 1944) is a Chinese businessman. Liu is the founder of Lenovo, one of the largest computer makers in the world.
By the early 1980s, Liu had achieved relative success as a computer scientist but still felt frustrated with his career. While his work on magnetic data storage was important, it lacked direct practical applications. He said, “We were the top computer technology research organization in China. We developed the first electron-tube computer and the first transistor computer. But we only produced one of each. Then we went on to develop something else. The work was just filed away.” Liu was also anxious about his economic circumstances; In 1984, Liu had a growing family but an income of only 100RMB per month.
Liu founded Lenovo (whose English name was originally Legend, in Chinese 联想 Lianxiang), in 1984 with a group of ten other engineers in Beijing with 200,000 yuan and an office roughly 20 square yards in size. Liu came up with the idea to start Lenovo in response to a lack of funding at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Liu’s superior arranged for the academy to loan him and the other co-founders the afore-mentioned 200,000 yuan. Of this time, Liu said, “It wasn’t easy. The lowest thing you could do in the early ’80s, as a scientist, was to go into business. China had a strict planned economy and there was barely room for a freewheeling company like ours.”
Liu claims Hewlett-Packard as a key source of inspiration for Lenovo. In an interview with The Economist he said, “Our earliest and best teacher was Hewlett-Packard.” For more than ten years, Lenovo served as Hewlett-Packard’s distributor in China. Speaking about Lenovo’s later acquisition of IBM’s personal computer unit Liu said, “I remember the first time I took part in a meeting of IBM agents. I was wearing an old business suit of my father’s and I sat in the back row. Even in my dreams, I never imagined that one day we could buy the IBM PC business. It was unthinkable. Impossible.”
Lenovo’s later takeover of IBM’s personal computing business made him the first Chinese CEO to lead the takeover of a major American firm. During an interview, Liu acknowledged the major risks involved with the IBM deal. “We had three serious risks. Number one: After the acquisition, would clients buy from the new owner? Number two: Would employees continue to work for the new owner? Number three: Would there be potential conflicts between the Chinese management and the Western management?”
Business ethics were a key challenge for Liu in establishing and expanding Lenovo. Liu says that at first he behaved “like a kind of dictator” and spent lots of time yelling. He had five corrupt executives imprisoned. Being late for a meeting could be punished by having to stand in silence before the group, a punishment that Liu accepted three times himself. Lenovo’s culture gradually changed and Liu was able to relax his authoritarian style. Lenovo became an employer of choice for Chinese engineers and managers with overseas education.
Liu said in an interview with Forbes that he hoped to diversify away from IT-related businesses and that Legend Holding’s assets would be mainly concentrated in information technology, real estate, services, coal processing, and agriculture. He said agriculture “will become the next strategic development area for Legend Holdings.”
As of 2002, Liu served as vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce. Since 2004, Liu has served as director of the Computer Technology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Liu was a delegate to the 16th National Congress of Communist Party of China and a deputy to the 9th and 10th sessions of the National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislative body.
Liu has been named “Asian Businessman,” one of the “Global 25 Most Influential Business Leaders,” and many other awards. He received Second National Technology Entrepreneurs Gold Award in 1990. He was named a Model Worker and Man of Reform in China, both in 1995. He was named one of the “Ten Most Influential Men of the Commercial Sector” in China in 1996. Liu was named one of the “Stars of Asia” by BusinessWeek magazine in 2000. In 2001, Liu was selected by Time Magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Global Executives.” In 2012, Forbes named Liu one of the 10 most important business leaders in China.
Liu is a member of the China Entrepreneurs Club (CEC). The CEC was founded in 2006. Its purpose is to strengthen the sense of social responsibility among China’s young entrepreneurs.
Liu was born in 1944 in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu near Shanghai, where his paternal grandfather was head of a traditional Chinese bank. Liu’s grandfather sent his father, Liǔ Gǔshū (柳谷书), to study in Shanghai. Liu Gushu abandoned scholarship and passed an exam for employment with the Bank of China. Liu Gushu was a “patriotic capitalist” who worked secretly for the Communist Party before the revolution of 1949. He became a senior executive with the Bank of China and later became a patent lawyer and chairman of the China Technology Licensing Company. Liu Chuanzhi’s maternal grandfather served as finance minister for the warlord Sun Chuanfang. After the Communist victory in 1949, Liu’s family moved to Beijing, where they lived in a traditional courtyard home located on a hutong in the Wangfujing area. Liu’s father continued his work with the Bank of China and joined the Chinese Communist Party. Liu’s father developed a reputation as an honest and skilled banker.
Liu is married and has three children. Liu’s daughter Liǔ Qīng (柳青) is an alumna of Peking University. Liu Qing joined Didi Chuxing as chief operating officer in July 2014 after working at Goldman Sachs for 12 years.