Weibo: Lenovo, TCL Chiefs On The Road; Xiaomi's Misfit

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by: Doug Young

This week’s microblogging round-up continues a recent trend that’s seen China’s high-tech executives keep relatively quiet in cyberspace as they wrap up various year-end business and prepare for the long holiday period between western and Chinese new years. During this busy period there’s less time for chatter, and executives often take to the road for one last trip before a needed year-end rest.

Two of China’s most recognized tech chiefs, Lenovo (OTCPK:LNVGY) CEO Yang Yuanqing and TCL (Shenzhen: 000100) Chairman Li Dongsheng, both detailed year-end road trips on their microblogs this past week, providing some insight to the daily routines that these executives go through during the course of the year.

Meantime, an executive from talkative smartphone sensation Xiaomi also commented on his company’s latest investment in U.S. wearable devices maker Misfit Wearables. That provided a bit of insight on Xiaomi’s own decision to co-invest along with Chinese e-commerce giant (NASDAQ:JD) in this U.S. tech startup that’s trying to carve out a niche in the up-and-coming market for wearable high-tech devices.

Let’s begin this week’s round-up of high-tech chatter with Lenovo chief Yang Yuanqing, who has been quite talkative since launching his microblogging account on the Twitter (NYSE:TWTR)-like Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) service last month. (previous post) Yang gave a detailed account of his year-end road trip over the past week, which included stops at the company’s U.S. headquarters in the state of North Carolina and then across the Atlantic for European stops in Norway and Denmark.

On the U.S. leg of his tour, Yang took time to meet with a reporter from U.S. financial magazine Barron’s. The interview wasn’t too ground breaking, but did provide some insight about Yang’s personality. Highlights included Yang’s admission that he has been fond of cooking since he was a boy; he wasn’t afraid to start learning English at a late age; and his acknowledgement that others think he’s a workaholic. (microblog post)

From the U.S., Yang traveled to Norway where his agenda comprised a whirlwind tour of 6 visits in just 9 hours in the chilly country. (microblog post) But Yang was most talkative during his next stop in Denmark, and his series of microblog posts reveal a particular fascination with that country’s fabled children’s author Hans Christan Andersen. Yang commented on the uniqueness of a night tour of Copenhagen, including a stop at a tavern where he got to sit in the same seat favored by Andersen many years ago. (microblog post)

Yang’s North American and European-centric tour contrasted with that by TCL’s Li Dongsheng, whose road trip also began in the U.S. but then took a turn south where he made stops in Argentina and Brazil. (microblog post) From there Li took his own trans-Atlantic leap to Dubai in the Middle East, before heading back to China.

Perhaps Li avoided Europe because the continent is one place he might rather forget, following 2 acquisitions in France about a decade ago that proved disastrous for TCL. Li made this latest trip in 9 days, touring the company’s international operations that now account for nearly half of TCL’s business. He also made brief reference to the “difficulties” TCL faced in its decade of overseas M&A, but concluded by saying TCL will continue to persevere.

The international market has certainly been a difficult one for early Chinese tech leaders like Lenovo and TCL, which were some of China’s first major technology firms to try and develop global markets. Lenovo also had notorious difficulty digesting IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) PC business when it made that landmark purchase in 2005. But despite their difficulties, both Lenovo and TCL have proven remarkably resilient, in no small part due to perseverance by both Yang and Li.

Finally, let’s close out this Weibo round-up with a few thoughts from Xiaomi on its latest in a series of small to mid-sized investments in other technology companies. Xiaomi was in the headlines last week when San Francisco area-based Misfit Wearables announced it had raised $40 million in a new funding round from a group that included Xiaomi and The latest round was led by one of Misfit’s earlier investors, but had a distinctly Chinese flavor with other investors including Shunwei Capital Partners.

Xia Yongfeng, a top executive at the division that focuses on ecosystem development for Xiaomi’s growing stable of devices, said he had a long talk with Misfit CEO Sonny Vu, and was impressed by his big ambitions for the company whose current products include a sleep tracker. (microblog post) It’s probably still a early to say how this new partnership will develop, and I do suspect that Xiaomi’s investment in Misfit is relatively small, perhaps around $5 million. Still, the move does hint at Xioami’s future direction, and I fully expect we’ll see Xiaomi get into the hot wearable devices space next year.

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