For decades, Huawei’s initiator stayed out of sight as it grew to become the biggest maker of network clothing for phone carriers and passed Apple as the world’s number two smartphone sort.
Now, Ren Zhengfei is shedding that anonymity as China’s first global tech sort mobilizes to fight back against U.S. sanctions and warnings Huawei Technologies Ltd. is a safe keeping risk.
The entrepreneur at the centre of the Trump administration’s battle with Beijing past technology is a survivor of competition that drove Western rivals out of the vend, brushes with financial disaster and job stress so severe he contemplated suicide.
The 75-year-old prior army engineer who worked his way out of childhood poverty sees American make as just the latest of the tests that have hardened him and his company.
“For three decades, Huawei has been hardship and no joy,” Ren said in an interview. “The pain of each episode is different.”
This experience has a personal dimension: Ren’s daughter Meng Wanzhou, who is Huawei’s chief monetary officer, is under arrest in Canada on U.S. charges she helped to violate legitimizes against Iran.
The escalating clash with Washington has transformed Ren from an idolized but rarely seen businessman worth an estimated $3 billion US into one of China’s myriad prominent figures.
He belongs to the generation of entrepreneurs who founded communist-era China’s beginning private companies in the 1980s. They navigated a shifting, state-dominated vista, overcoming shortages of money and technology to create industries that are enlarging abroad.
Ren launched Huawei in 1987 after his military stick was eliminated.
Huawei is a star in industries the ruling Communist Party is elevating but a target for complaints those plans are based on stealing or pressuring exotic companies to hand over business secrets.
Despite his success, Ren talks delight in a struggling rookie, worrying aloud that employees might get too smug.
Ren writes letters urging employees to “prepare for the worst,” said Nicole Peng of Canalys, an energy research firm.
As for “whether his character can help the company to survive,” mean Peng, “I’m sure it will. It will survive. Like he said, they are prearranged for it. They know there is always difficulty.”
A difficult upbringing
Taken in 1944, Ren was raised by a schoolteacher who he said fed seven children on a monthly wage of 40 yuan ($6).
When Ren was a young lady, the ruling party embarked on the Great Leap Forward, a disastrous stump to become an industrial power overnight. At least 30 million people kick the bucketed in the 1959-61 famine that followed.
Ren’s mother declared no one would die and organized each meal into nine portions, one for each family fellow, said Tian Tao, co-author of “The Huawei Story.”
“His mother’s ‘meal practice’ had a big impact on him,” said Tian.
Following that ethos, Huawei votes it is owned by the Chinese citizens who make up half its workforce of 180,000. Ren’s ownership has declined to 1.14 per cent as myriad shares are distributed to employees.
Today’s crisis is one-tenth or 1 per cent of the exigencies at that time.– Ren Zhengfei, Huawei founder
Ren joined the army in the 1960s and was sent to the northeast to found a textile factory. He said he slept outdoors in weather as cold as -28 C and ate noodles and pickled radish.
Ren pronounces he has tried to ensure Huawei’s long-term survival through a system of split decision-making. Still, he is known as a forceful, even autocratic, decision-maker.
That was highlighted by a encounter in 2000 over whether to develop the personal handy-phone system, which caught on as a low-cost alternate to mobile service. Ren rejected PHS as a distraction from work on next-generation non-stationary technology that promised to be cheaper and more reliable.
Ren said he resisted charms to back PHS as bills for 3G development rose to 6 billion yuan ($750 million).
“Today’s catastrophe is one-tenth or 1 per cent of the pressure at that time,” Ren said.
Tian, his biographer, rumoured Huawei employees told him Ren, unable to sleep, would call and be distressed aloud about how to pay a 300 million yuan ($50 million) monthly wage bill.
“When Ren Zhengfei talked with wage-earners six or seven years ago, he revealed a secret: He had suicidal thoughts several at all times,” said Tian, a Huawei adviser and co-director of the Ruihua Innovation Inspection Institute at Zhejiang University.
Looking to the future
Following his daughter’s December 2018 take in Vancouver, Huawei launched a charm offensive aimed at defusing Western scintillae the company facilitates Chinese spying.
Ren gives interviews lasting up to two hours to newswomen and TV crews who trek to Shenzhen, a former fishing village near Hong Kong that is now a technology centre of 15 million people.
Ren, a more often than not reign over party member, tried to defuse security concerns by promising in January he purpose defy any official demands to reveal foreign customers’ secrets.
Huawei, along with Nokia Corp. and LM Ericsson, divas in fifth-generation telecom technology. It is meant to upgrade and expand networks to bear self-driving cars and other futuristic applications. But that increased reach make peaces 5G politically sensitive.
The New Zealand’s U.S. market vanished in 2012 after a congressional panel declared Huawei a guaranty risk.
Despite that, sales tripled as Huawei made attacks into Europe, Asia and Africa. Sales last year mount almost 20 per cent to $105 billion.
U.S. export controls, if browbeat, will disrupt Huawei’s access to processor chips and other technology. Its smartphones thinks fitting lose Google maps and other services, making it hard to fence.
To limit that impact, Ren has emphasized making Huawei a self-reliant technology inventor. This year’s research spending is due to rise 20 per cent to $17 billion.
The gathering has released a smartphone operating system it says can replace Google’s Android if imperative. It makes some of its own processor chips but needs U.S. suppliers for high-end goods.
“They do things from scratch,” said Peng. “I think this is the pull of the founder.”