Dec 122014

“We’re coming for our competitors” is the warning BlackBerry’s President of Global Enterprise Services, John Sims has for the marketplace in an interview last month.

Sims laid out how BlackBerry’s future lies in managing big data, providing collaboration tools and securing the internet of things. In the short term however, the company needs emerging markets to keep its mobile handset market going.

In an interview last month on Australia’s Gold Coast at the Gartner Symposium, Sims laid out some of BlackBerry’s vision of the company’s future.

Securing the endpoints

The key product is the BlackBerry Enterprise Services which Sims sees as providing the endpoint security for corporate mobile devices and for the internet of things, something that ties into the company’s QNX investment.

For the moment though its handsets are a key part of the company’s immediate future and Sims sees the latent demand from lapsed BlackBerry as essential to success, “there are tens of millions of BlackBerry users who are still sitting on their old handsets.”

“The classic, when it comes along is targeted at that market. We know people are waiting.”

“When we went from the Gold to the Q10, too much changed. You had to go from the BBOS to the BlackBerry 10 and that’s a big change, we changed the keyboard, we took away shortcuts and we changed too much at the same time. With the Classic we’re almost doing a retrofit.”

With the recently released Passport smartphone, Sims says the company is struggling to keep up with demand,  “The Passport has done well,” he said. “The problem with it is us, not demand. It’s a supply issue not a demand issue.”

A week after that interview, BlackBerry announced the company would give Canadian buyers of the Passport subsidies of $600. How that ties into the narrative of a popular device isn’t quite clear.

Sims hopes the release of the Classic won’t suffer from supply problems, “we think is going to be more popular so we can be sure when it comes out we’ll be able to get that into the market in sufficient quantities to meet demand.

Discovering emerging markets

The other hope for BlackBerry’s handset business lies in developing markets, “Latin America is very important,” Sims says. “India’s very important and then there are number of important South East Asian markets.”

Part of that emerging market strategy is tied into selling mid priced smartphones into the market, Sims says. “People will say ‘the Z3 is a low end device’, if you go visit Indonesia the Z3 is not a low end device. It’s a middle market device.”

“Xiaomi is doing the low end devices at less than a hundred bucks and we’re doing a device at around $170. So we’re focused on the middle market, people who are professionals or aspiring professionals.”

“With those people in those markets we want to establish the BlackBerry brand as something they are comfortable with,” says Sims in outlining how he sees getting the handsets into business people as being the driver for the company’s other services and products.

Struggling with China

China remains an enigma for BlackBerry however, “in the last couple of years we haven’t focused on China, it’s a huge market and it’s hard for external parties to be successful on their own. Local partnerships are important.”

“John Chen (BlackBerry’s CEO) was recently in China and met with some of the local partners to talk about the possibilities of the future. It’s very preliminary and there’s nothing of any substance there yet but it is on our horizon that we’ve got to have something in the China Market.”

We’re coming for you

Despite the struggles BlackBerry has with its handset business, Sims is defiant about the company’s position in the endpoint security market.

“Ultimately it becomes a question of scale, we’ve got scale because we have a global network. None of the other EMM vendors – Good, Mobile Iron or Airwatch – none of them have the Big Data requirements that we have.”

“A year ago BlackBerry was defensive. We’re not defensive any more. People like Airwatch, Mobile Iron or Good should thank us that we were asleep at the wheel a few years ago and that allowed them to build their companies. That party’s over.”

“We’re coming after them. We have targets painted on each of those companies and as we execute our enterprise strategy we’re coming after them. If I was them I’d be feeling the breathing on the back of the neck.”

For BlackBerry the future lies in security services and the internet of things, though for the short term the company’s cash flow and market position depends upon sales of its handsets.

As the interview with John Sims shows, the company’s success depends upon a few key assumptions coming true; that’s a high risk market.

Paul travelled to the 2014 Australian Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast as a guest of BlackBerry.

Oct 312014

We’ve looked previously at how Chinese manufacturers are moving up the value chain, proof of how PRC based companies are beginning to make their mark on markets are the latest smartphone IDC rankings.

Two Chinese companies, Lenovo and Xiaomi, entered the rankings with the latter recording a threefold increase on the previous year’s sales.

Remarkably, Xiaomi only had a few hours as number three in IDC’s global ranking as Lenovo closed its Motorola acquisition shortly after the release which pushed the combined company into third position.

Top Five Smartphone Vendors, Shipments, Market Share and Year-Over-Year Growth, Q3 2014 Preliminary Data (Units in Millions)


2014Q3 Shipment Volumes

2014Q3 Market Share

2013Q3 Shipment Volumes

2013Q3 Market Share

3Q14/3Q13 Change

1. Samsung






2. Apple






3. Xiaomi






4. Lenovo*






4. LG*


















Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, October 29, 2014

The two companies illustrate the different strategies Chinese companies are making in taking on the world; while Lenovo is growing through acquiring ‘cast off’ operations like Motorola Mobility from Google and the various hardware arms of IBM, Xiaomi is growing through selling lower budget devices into East Asian markets.

Both approaches have their strengths and benefits and illustrate as much the diversity of the markets the two companies are chasing as much as the differing management philosophies of the business.

The other message from the respective successes  of Lenovo and Xiaomi is that Chinese companies, particularly manufacturers, are increasingly confident in competing in the global marketplace.

Just as Japanese manufacturers found their feet in the 1970s with many becoming global brands and market leaders, we are seeing the same thing happening with the Chinese businesses today.

Oct 062014
can China save the world?

Three weeks ago Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba triumphantly listed on the US NASDAQ stock market with a valuation of over two hundred billion dollars. It was a strong announcement to the world that Chinese companies have arrived as global competitors.

A week later telecommunications vendor Huawei announced it was buying British internet of things darling Neul for £25 million as part of its proposed £1.3 billion investment the UK technology sector.

Quietly last week Another NASDAQ listed Chinese company, computer manufacturer Lenovo completed its purchase of IBM’s mid market server business.

Lenovo’s deal follows its purchase of IBMs PC division in 2005 that saw the iconic Thinkpad laptops become Lenovo products. Both deals tell us much about where the two companies see their respective futures.

China’s great economic pivot

These three big announcements by Chinese companies show how the economy of the Peoples’ Republic of China is pivoting just as other East Asian countries have over the past fifty years.

Leading the example of the East Asian pivot is Japan who pioneered the model of starting as a cheap manufacturing labor source then steadily ground its way up the global value chain to being the leader in many fields.

That model was copied by Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. It hasn’t worked everywhere as countries like Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines have been caught in the ‘middle income trap’ that has seen their economies not move into the higher brackets.

Racing up the development curve

China’s mission with over a billion mouths to feed and keep politically content is to avoid the middle income trap and move into the higher brackets. With an aging population it has to do this far quicker than its successful neighbours.

While Huawei along with car manufacturer Great Wall and white goods vendor Haier are following that established Japanese model, albeit rapidly accellerated, Lenovo and Alibaba are following radically different paths.

Alibaba has the benefit of catering to a billion strong domestic market that’s leapfrogging the west in technology adoption. This gives the company a firm foundation for its global operations.

With Lenovo, the sweeping up of the US technology sector’s crumbs is a strategy that sees them buy immediate market share and develop a global position that would take it another generation to do so under the Japanese model of organic expansion which companies like Honda, Toyota and Sony pioneered.

The task ahead for the Chinese economy in moving up the economic value chain is immense and not without huge political, business and social risks. However as the economy ages, it’s a journey the country’s business and political leaders have to make.

Recently China watcher Patrick Chovanec spoke on the Chinese pivot and warned that the changes will have major ramifications for the world economy, particularly for the commodity exporters — notably  Brazil, Australia and China — who provided the raw material for the country’s early economic expansion.

Lenovo, Alibaba and Huawei are leading the change in the Chinese economy and how their strategies work will define business in the mid 21st Century.

Sep 232014

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner believes the company’s culture and values are one of its most important competitive advantages, however moving into China has tested those strengths he told a conference in Sydney two weeks ago.

During the fireside chat Weiner went over the company’s development, the challenges he faced taking over from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as CEO and the importance of the company’s ethical base.

“It’s important for companies to define what culture and values mean to them before they get to what the specific values and culture are,” Weiner said in an answer to an audience question.

Defining values and culture

“At LinkedIn we think culture is the collective personality of our organisation and it’s not only who we are but who we aspire to be and that aspirational component is really important,” Weiner continued.

“Oftentimes you’ll see company executives get onstage to introduce culture and values or talk about changing  culture and values and it’s not necessarily something the company already does and it loses the trust of the employees and the audience when that material being presented because people know is not necessarily true.

“If you allow yourself to include this aspirational dimension when defining the culture it gives everyone an opportunity to play up to where your setting that bar and I think that’s important,” stated Weiner.

“Values are the first principles upon which we make day to day operating decisions, that’s how we make the distinction.”

Culture as a competitive advantage

“I think once an organisation has defined for itself what it means by culture and values it’s then obviously important to codify its culture and the pillars of the culture and the specific values that it operates with.

“Its not enough to codify it, we went to the trouble of defining it and then putting it in our public registration when we filed to go public and that’s a good start but all too often we see people talking the talk with regard to culture and values and not walking the walk.”

For Weiner, that commitment to the company’s culture is the company’s strength in the marketplace: “Today, I’ll tell you it’s our most important competitive advantage.”

The China Problem

LinkedIn’s culture though has been tested by its entry into the Chinese market where its aspirations of being a content publisher met the limitations of the country’s censors.

When asked by this writer about the quandary LinkedIn finds itself in the PRC, Weiner reconciled this with the company’s mission to connect the world’s professionals.

“China’s one of our largest opportunities in terms of the value we can create for members in China and for companies in China.”

“One in five knowledge workers and students reside in China so it’s a huge part of connecting the world’s professionals and to achieve that kind of scale so we can create value for people who are living in China it’s important that we’re able to do business there.”

“At times means complying with law that forces us to do things that are very challenging and difficult and we always knew the importance of operating in China and for us we wanted to be extremely thoughtful in terms of how we did that.”

Favoring freedom of expression

“Obviously we are very much against the idea of censorship and very much in favor of freedom of expression but in terms of operating there and creating economic opportunities for what could be potentially a 144 million people from time to time we may have to make some very difficult decisions. That’s the reality of doing business there.”

In being asked if this creates a struggle with the company’s culture, Weiner answered “that was one of the things we took so much time on.”

“From the time we decided we needed to be in China and how important it would be in creating the global platform and adding value for members and the time we entered into China with the local language version of the site it was of the order of 18 to 24 months.”

“Discussions took place among our executives asking some very difficult questions in terms of our culture, our values and where we would be willing to compromise and where we would draw hard and fast lines and that will continue to be an ongoing process.”

For LinkedIn and Jeff Weiner the challenge of being a trusted global publishing platform and a leader in the Chinese market raises some serious ethical questions; it’s a challenge that is going to test the company more in coming years.

Sep 202014

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba floated on the New York Stock Exchange and immediately rang up a 38% gain that values the company at $238 billion, behind only Microsoft, Apple and Google in tech stock valuations.

One of the major shareholders in Alibaba is Yahoo! who posted a 2.7% drop in value despite picking up a $5 billion windfall from the Chinese companies float.

For Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma, this float and the stock market’s reaction is a vindication of his business and of China’s place in the modern global economy, something we discussed with early Alibaba employee Porter Erisman last year.

Alibaba also shows that Chinese companies are now credible international businesses and companies like Haier, Lenovo and Hauwei need to be taken seriously as competitors and suppliers.

While Jack Ma and Alibaba celebrate, Marissa Mayer and Yahoo!’s management team are going to have to give some careful thought about how to use that extra five billion dollars. Time and investor patience is dwindling away for the once powerful internet giant.

It may be too soon to draw Alibaba’s success and the fall of Yahoo! as being the parallel of the rise of the Chinese economy and the decline of the US, but yesterday does give a strong signal about how the global economy is changing.

Image source:

Aug 212014

A few days ago this site covered Patrick Chovanec’s views on the changes the world faces as China moves from an export focused economy to one that relies more on domestic consumption.

Chovanec highlighted that some industries will be winners — retailers for instance — while others such as property developers and exporting manufacturers will be losers.

It seems we can add casinos to that list of losers; the big gamblers aren’t spending money as their property collateral falls and the government tightens up on corruption.

As Quartz reports, Macau’s casinos have encountered their second consecutive quarter of revenue falls and gambling stocks are falling.

That’s bad news for Macau’s economy but it’s also not good for those who’ve hitched their fortunes to Chinese gamblers — Steve Wynn and James Packer are two people immediately spring to mind.

In the case of James Packer this is also bad news for the Australian economy as Packer’s Aussie casinos are increasingly focused on attracting Chinese ‘whales’.

For Sydney and the state of New South Wales, this is particularly bad news as the government gifted a prime site of land to build a new casino that was going to be the mainstay of the city’s tourism industry.

Not that Sydney is alone in its cargo cult like hope that building a casino will attract Chinese. In Northern Queensland, the struggling city of Cairns is pinning the future of its tourism industry on a massive complex in a flood mangrove swamp.

Should that project collapse it will be another example of the folly in believing Australia could ride on the back of a booming China for decades and staking everything on that belief.

In the 21st Century, business is more than just building a shiny object and hoping rich Chinese will come.

Aug 192014

The problem facing commentators on the Chinese economy is a lack of clear narrative and the rest of the world needs to understand the story believes economist Patrick Chovanec.

Chovanec was speaking at Sydney University’s China Studies Centre last night on how the Chinese economy is shifting from being export lead to relying on domestic consumption, a process that isn’t without challenges.

“There’s a kind of schizophrenia about the Chinese economy,” says Chovanec who describes how the news swings from extremes of all good news to dire warnings. This, he believes, is because of a lack of understanding of the processes underpinning the country’s changing position.

Comparisons with Japan

China’s growth has been underpinned by export lead growth model which is a very good way for a poor country to become rich quickly but reaches limits when the exporters’ markets become saturated and the buyer countries can no longer buy.

This was the dilemma Japan hit in the 1990s and Chovanec sees similarities which happened at an earlier stage of China’s economic development because of its far greater size.

In another respect is the cost of labour which sees the country in the same position as Japan in the 1960s where where manufacturing started moving to Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong due to high Japanese wages.

The problem of soaring labour rates is covered by Peter Cai in today’s China Spectator which includes this chart showing how selected emerging economies wages compare.


Cai points out manufacturing is already shifting out of China with Vietnam being a favourite destination.

This has already had an impact on companies’ decisions to manufacture items in China. In 2000, China made 40 per cent of all Nike shoes, while Vietnam made 13 per cent. Fast-forward to 2013, and China’s production share was 30 per cent, Vietnam’s increased to 42 per cent.

Vietnam however has its own problems and Cai sees China having advantages in having superior infrastructure, integrated supply chains, and a better educated workforce that will slow relocations.

Building productivity

Chovanec is more optimistic about the Chinese economy seeing bringing sectors like agriculture and medicine up to Western standards of productivity as potential growth areas for China.

“Having worked in China for many years, I see a lot of productivity gains across the Chinese economy.”

Many of the earlier productivity gains were low hanging fruit – labour was cheap making it easy to improve productivity. As workers become higher paid, that low hanging fruit is gone with reforms harder to implement along with many more affluent interests who would be losers in a rebalanced economy.

Among the losers in the transition from today’s economy would be property developers and export focused manufacturers while winners would be retailers and service industries.

The switch to consumption

In his view, China is capable of making the transition: “The most precious global commodity is domestic demand,” Chovanec says. “China has that cushion to invest in the face of fall in consumption, that doesn’t have to mean a fall in Chinese living standards.”

For the rest of the world the question Chovanec believes has to be asked is what will that consumption led Chinese economy look like and what does it mean for those with a stake in China?

“Other countries are going to be winners and losers from China’s rebalancing. You have to think about what you want to be.”

Australia has a particularly difficult problem in the face of a rebalanced China, Chovanec believes.

“The problem for Australia is that the country has been the supplier to China’s investment boom. If China’s investment boom comes to an end then Australia no longer has no market.”

Optimistism and the future

Despite the challenges Chovanec is optimistic about China. “My experience in going to China in 1986 is that the Chinese government and Communist Party deserve a lot of credit for getting out of the way.”

The success of China’s economy over the last thirty years has been driven from the grass roots; “this was a bottom up process, not a top down model.” Chovanec says.

Unlike many of the populist writers on China, not to mention more hysterical politicians and commentators, Chovanec provides a nuanced view on the underlying dynamics and the evolution of the Chineses economy.

That we need to consider a world where the Chinese economy is very different is an important message and one that policy makers and business people need to think very carefully about.