Fujitsu offloads PC division in joint venture with Lenovo

Lenovo has announced it will acquire a majority stake in Fujitsu’s global PC business, more than a year after the two companies revealed they were in talks. Fujitsu is selling a 51% share in its PC division, Fujitsu Client Computing Limited (FCCL), to Lenovo for a maximum of JPY25.5 billion (US$224 million), and a further 5% to the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) for JPY2.5 billion (US$22 million). FCCL becomes a joint venture between the three companies, and the deal is expected to close in Fujitsu’s Q1 2018, which begins in April next year. The announcement relates only to Fujitsu’s client computing division, which includes desktops, notebooks, tablets, workstations and related peripherals. Servers, storage, security, cloud and services are not affected and remain part of Fujitsu. FCCL will continue to be run by its current global president, Kuniaki Saito, and around 2,000 Fujitsu staff will move into the joint venture.

Lenovo/Fujitsu joint venture raises many questions

Fujitsu insists it is not quitting the PC market, but instead sees this partnership as a way to strengthen its competitive position against larger rivals. With a focus on enterprise PCs only (apart from in Japan), Fujitsu’s global PC market share, excluding tablets, has fallen from around 1.9% in 2013 to 1.3% in 2016. The primary benefit for Fujitsu is the combined purchasing power that Lenovo brings with Intel, Microsoft and other component vendors, which will bring substantial pricing advantages.

For Lenovo, the attraction is different. Fujitsu brings some size benefits – combining Q2 shipment volumes would have given Lenovo a 21% market share (excluding tablets). But the real appeal lies in Fujitsu’s sizeable consumer business in Japan. Lenovo is already Japan’s PC leader through its joint venture with NEC, so adding Fujitsu significantly extends its leadership (assuming no objections from competition authorities) as Japan’s PC market struggles with growth. Fujitsu’s notebook manufacturing and R&D operations in Japan will move into the joint venture, improving efficiencies for Lenovo, which the company hopes will boost profitability. Unlike in the rest of the world, FCCL will own the sales and support organization and go-to-market operation in Japan. This means it will be responsible for large retail relationships and direct sales in Japan.

For Fujitsu’s partners and end customers outside of Japan, little is likely to change in the short term:

  • Products will continue to be sold under the Fujitsu brand, and Fujitsu will remain the front-end sales and support provider for the joint venture.
  • PC products will be sold through its worldwide reseller and distribution channel, along with its data center products. Fujitsu’s channel management will own both client and data center channels as before, and PC partners will continue to be part of the Select partner program.
  • Lenovo’s own PC and data center business will not be integrated with Fujitsu’s, and its channel organization will remain completely separate. On a day-to-day basis, both companies will continue to compete, as will their channel partners.
  • Fujitsu will retain ownership of its European factory in Augsburg, Germany, which manufactures desktops, thin clients and workstations.

But as a minority shareholder in the joint venture, Fujitsu effectively becomes a reseller for FCCL, buying client devices from the joint venture and (outside of Japan) selling through its own reseller and distributor channel, or through its direct sales force. For desktops and workstations built in Augsburg, Fujitsu becomes a contract manufacturer for FCCL, in a similar way that notebooks are built by ODM partners such as Quanta, though Lenovo will buy components on behalf of Fujitsu.

Assessing Lenovo’s longer-term ambitions

A global partnership between two competitors on this scale is unusual, particularly as Lenovo will not integrate its own PC business or channel with Fujitsu’s. This is not unprecedented for Lenovo – it has a history of maintaining acquired businesses as standalone operations, including Medion in Germany and CCE in Brazil (which it subsequently sold back to the owners after three years), as well as NEC. But these have largely been country-level operations, so the impact of competition and resource overlap has been relatively limited. Doing this at a worldwide level requires a different degree of management commitment on both sides. For Fujitsu, ceding majority control over FCCL will have some inevitable consequences. It will have less power to define the future product line-up and portfolio. It will rely on FCCL to invest in research and development for notebooks (though as part of the deal, Fujitsu retains control of desktop R&D).

The key question is whether this is Lenovo’s first step toward acquiring FCCL outright. This was the approach Lenovo took with NEC in Japan, buying a 95% stake in their joint venture in 2016 after five years. Lenovo’s latest quarterly results show the vendor is regaining momentum across PCs, mobile and data centers, fueling 5% year-on-year Q2 revenue growth, while returning to net profit. But as the global PC market faces growing uncertainty, Lenovo will need to find new routes to both shipment growth and profitability. Beyond Japan, where it has a strong consumer brand, Fujitsu has established a reputation for quality, security and reliability for business PCs, and maintained pockets of strength, particularly in Germany, which Lenovo could capitalize on in its fight against HP and Dell.

The joint venture would help to smooth the transition path to an eventual acquisition of the PC business, and limit the level of risk for Lenovo, by maintaining consistency for customers and partners, and minimizing disruption to the business. As well as boosting its consumer share in Japan, Fujitsu’s PC business brings Lenovo access to a new set of enterprise clients around the world, to which it could cross-sell its own data center products. But with sales and channels remaining with Fujitsu outside of Japan, FCCL does not give Lenovo direct access to these accounts. It will continue to rely on the wider Fujitsu organization as a sales and marketing engine for the PC business, and an ongoing partnership with Fujitsu will be important to the success of the joint venture. At the same time, many of these enterprise PC accounts also buy Fujitsu’s server and storage solutions, and Fujitsu will continue to compete head to head with Lenovo in data center products, even as the two companies build a partnership around the PC business. It may therefore make more sense for Lenovo to ultimately consider a more ambitious acquisition, to include Fujitsu’s entire hardware organization – incorporating the data center business – particularly as Lenovo seeks to expand its own global presence in servers and storage.