Work Transformed: UNC Hussman Board of Adviser member Torod Neptune steers Lenovo’s global communications
by Barbara Wiedemann
Torod Neptune is the worldwide group vice president and chief communications officer at Lenovo. He leads the Fortune 500 tech company’s communications from Lenovo’s Morrisville, North Carolina, offices. A member of the UNC Hussman Board of Advisers, Neptune was named one of the top 50 power players in communications and public relations by PR Week last summer. He will be inducted into the North Carolina Media & Journalism Hall of Fame in October. Previously, he served in similar roles for Verizon Communications Inc. and for a communications consulting firm in the nation’s capital. He developed the first post-Sept. 11 and anthrax crisis communications function for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2003–2004. He began his career as a reporter with The State and received a B.A. in international affairs and journalism from the University of South Carolina at Columbia. On Wednesday, April 1, Neptune shared his perspective on communicating globally during the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
The benefits of a global vantage point
Neptune works for a tech company founded in 1984 by 11 engineers in China. Lenovo today has a presence in over 180 markets around the globe. That gives him perspective on how COVID-19 is affecting corporate communications around the world. He points out that a source of the company’s strength has long been a rich, inclusive culture fostered by a diverse management team.
“My team works around the globe,” Neptune said. ”We are better for our differences. Diversity makes our company dynamic and makes us better people. Our imperative is to maintain this global aperture during this challenging time.”
He urges communicators to remain cognizant of geopolitical realities and challenges, while steering clear of nationalistic tensions.
”I’ve been vocal about this,” he said. ”We must avoid defaulting to fears and to tribes. One of our challenges as communicators is to help our organization not fall into those tropes, and to keep our global perspective.”
Getting comfortable with ambiguity
Common tech tools have suddenly become the sole mechanism for collaborative discussion. In constant contact via tools like Teams, Zoom, Skype and email, Neptune and his communications leaders across 25 markets share the pulse of the realities on the ground in China, Italy, Germany and now North America as the pandemic sweeps from one continent to the next.
“We’re talking about unbelievably different market realities from one to the next,” Neptune stressed. “China is recovering and striving to get back to business as usual, just as North America hunkers down and is thinking in terms of survival.”
“Typically, my role is to drive message discipline and consistency, but this is requiring an ambidextrousness and a comfort with ambiguity,” he added. Neptune recognized the demands for flexibility required of his team in order to strike the right balance in tone and tenor on a daily basis.
Finding — and making — good news
Neptune reports that Lenovo’s employees and customers are being vocal about the need for something to feel good about. Alongside a keen focus on facts and figures, his team is seeking out news that might help their communities get through challenging days with an inspirational or comforting message.
That includes corporate successes, like the two hospitals that his company outfitted with donated IT equipment from the ground up in China — from consumer to enterprise side — in the span of 10 days in January.
He also noted that the Lenovo Foundation’s corporate giving from a pandemic perspective just topped $10 million in cash and product donations.
Behind that number are the stories, like that of a member of the company’s global philanthropy team in Latin America who is working with Franciscan monks to provide food donations in Sao Paulo; a Motorola employee in India (Lenovo bought Motorola Mobility from Google in 2014) who has auctioned off his entire collection of valuable watches to help respond to the crisis; and a video about the safety features that have been put in place in a Beijing office as employees there return from working remotely at home to a “smart new normal.”
Stay tuned for more Work Transformed stories on how UNC Hussman alumni are adapting to this unprecedented time.
Alumnus Jamie Williams ’10, executive communications manager at UNC Health, is inspired by the patience and support provided by the communications team at UNC Health.
Alumna Caroline Bass ’19, a health writer and communications specialist for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, encourages us all to stay home and listen to public health professionals.
Alumna Robyn Tomlin ’96, executive editor of the News & Observer and southeast regional editor for McClatchy, notes the innovations made to fulfill the needs of local audiences that are craving quality local news and information.