Ren Zhengfei's Northern European Media Roundtable, Part 4

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei CEO, welcomed media from northern Europe to a roundtable and invited them to ask whatever they wished, however challenging the question. GEORGIA TODAY will be publishing those questions and answers in the present and following issues of GEORGIA TODAY newspaper.

What are your personal views on Huawei products? Do you prefer to read your news online or in the paper? Are you a tech nerd or more of a traditional type of man?

I use social media, and I look at stuff online. I mainly look at criticisms towards us, and I pass those criticisms on to relevant staff. I do this to remind them to check for problems with our products. As we all know, our products are used by billions of people. When people use our products, they are likely to find problems that are hard to identify in the lab. Some people post what they identify online, and when I see such posts, I am grateful, because then I can check with the relevant department as soon as possible to see if any improvements can be made.

We have an internal web forum at Huawei called the Xinsheng Community, where many employees criticize the company. We don't think they are bad employees for criticizing us, and instead understand that most of them are probably really good employees. If an employee's criticism is useful, our Human Resource Management Department checks their performance records for the last three years. If they have done well, we actually bring them to our headquarters to work for three to six months. During that time, we give them training to equip them with more knowledge, and then send them back to their original posts. They might be promoted in the future after that. We wouldn't promote an employee just because they identify problems. Instead, we promote them after they make contributions on the frontlines. Our internal criticism platform is open to all our employees, and is like a Roman Forum where large-scale debates take place. It's a tool that helps us self-correct. This is similar to what happens in the US. Being able to self-correct makes the US a great nation. Trump is a great man, but his staff also criticize him. The US can correct itself if it makes mistakes. Like the US, we also have a self-correction mechanism. I've made looking at online posts a bit of a habit. I skip the good things people say, but look at the bad and pass it onto the relevant people.

After dinner, I normally read news, go for a walk, and take a shower. After that, I do a bit of email and look at people's comments about us before going to sleep around one o'clock. I forward anything I find to relevant people as I find it, sometimes as late as midnight. I know this makes some people wonder whether I actually sleep or not. In fact, I just send the comments when I wake up and see them in the middle of the night. That is very simple.

So no nightmares about Donald Trump?

No, none. I actually feel like I need to thank Trump. After the company's 30 years of development, the majority of our employees have become fairly rich. However, this has made them complacent and they have started slacking off. Shenzhen is a great place to live, so why would they want to go and work hard in places like Africa and risk diseases like malaria? If all employees think this way, the company is bound to collapse soon.

However, with Trump brandishing his stick, our employees became nervous and aware that they must work hard to till the soil. That's why our sales revenue has increased, and our company has not collapsed yet. This is the result of our employees' collective efforts.

In this sense, I don't think Trump is a bad guy. Our employees were scared because he intimidated Huawei. I also used to intimidate our employees, but the stick I used was not as large as Trump's. So his intimidation played a big role in driving our employees to work harder than ever before.

What would other Western countries risk if they follow the US example and ban Huawei?

I think other Western countries make their own decisions based on their own interests. There is no way they will all follow in the US' footsteps, because the US doesn't share what it earns with these countries.

If the US shared the money that it earned equally with other Western countries, it would make sense for these countries to follow the US. But the US only cares about its own interests, and even adopts its "America First" policy, showing it doesn't put its allies first.

That's why we believe that all countries will make their own independent decisions.

People are saying that you and President Trump are men of the same generation. If he said "I want to see Huawei with for my own eyes, I want to visit Mr. Ren," what would you show him?

I would show him anything he's interested in, and even give him a hug. It's just like when you visit our exhibition halls, you can film and photograph what you see. When reporters from AP visited our facilities, they even took photos of our circuit boards. I don't think it matters. If he wants to, he is even welcome to visit my office, though my office is not as nice as his.

5G is a political thing, a cyber security thing. As is AI. You said you don't expect to be removed from the Entity List soon. So isn't it certain that there will be some divides or de-globalization in the technological world?

I don't think that would happen. If we build a localized ecosystem in Europe, and support the separate development of companies in different countries, then these companies would not necessarily have strong relationships with Huawei. It would be impossible for the US to impose sanctions on each and every one of these companies, so they would still have the opportunity to develop. Huawei alone is not sufficient to change the trajectory of globalization or the way things work.

A lot of people are scared of the rise of China, probably because of the different political system there. Do you think China has any responsibility for this fear, not only in Denmark, but in many countries? And what would you say to people who are afraid of a powerful China?

Denmark is a great country that I have a lot of appreciation for. It is a country that encourages intellectual and academic freedom. That's why Danish people have come up with many great inventions, like Niels Henrik David Bohr, the father of quantum mechanics, and Hans Christian Orsted, who discovered electric currents create magnetic fields.

I have visited Denmark several times, and I've also studied Denmark's social structure. Denmark implements flexible labor laws, which allows companies to fire incompetent employees for justifiable reasons. But the Danish government has also established training institutions to help these people upskill. Companies in Denmark have become more flexible and efficient in terms of workforce deployment, and pay more taxes. In doing so, Denmark has become a country where employees enjoy decent pay and huge benefits.

If a country overprotects labor, companies operating there would not dare to hire large numbers of employees, making it difficult for them to develop into larger companies. This would bring about many difficulties for this country. So without overprotection of labor, a country actually protects its labor to the largest possible extent. In this sense, Denmark has made huge historical contributions. That's the way forward.

I think China needs to learn from the education and labor systems in Denmark. Why can't China build technical training centers on a large scale, so that the unemployed can receive training and upskill themselves at the government's expense? Without these burdens, companies can go all out to make more money, and pay more taxes, which could then fund more workforce training. This would then help upgrade China's entire workforce, making the entire country progress faster.

China has been good enough to explain what it wants with all this power and all this wealth that has come to Denmark over the last four decades.

Actually, China's top priority is to lift people out of poverty, because there are still tens of millions of people in China living below the poverty line. The Chinese government is determined to eliminate poverty by the end of next year.

You've been to some coastal cities in China, like Shenzhen and Shanghai, but I would imagine you haven't been to many remote areas here. These coastal cities are not fully representative of all of China. There are many less developed, poor areas in West China.

China must build its strength if it wants to address the poverty issue in its less developed areas. It needs to build infrastructure like railways, roads, and power grids, which can help modernize those poverty-stricken areas. China should remain dedicated to eliminating poverty.

Another important issue for China is to improve its education systems. For example, 70 years ago, 70% of the Chinese population were illiterate, like a person in the West who doesn't understand A or B. Now, there are basically no illiterate people in the country, but there are still many who know little to nothing about science and technology. This is why I think China should establish more vocational and technical schools, so that ordinary people can master technical skills for better employment. This will ensure greater stability in the country, and stability is the foundation of development.

China has been exploring the right path for decades, and shifted from the planned economy to the current system.

30 years ago, Shenzhen was nowhere near as ordered as it is today, and China has been establishing this order gradually. Now, China has developed its own well-organized system. As long as you don't go over the top, you can say anything. That was not the case 30 or 40 years ago. At that time, I would not have even dared to talk to you. If I saw you in the street, I had to turn around and run away immediately. I could have been suspected of wrongdoing if I even brushed past you.

Now China is much more open, and I can talk with you as I like. I'm telling you the truth without polishing anything. I believe China is moving further towards modernization and democracy. It might not be considered satisfactory by people in the West, because you tend to compare China to Western countries, and because you have been on a journey of modernization for several centuries. But people in China are quite satisfied because the country has been improving day by day.

Would you say this last year's turbulence at Huawei has brought back the feeling of the company being a challenger? how important is this fighting spirit, and how does it apply internally when you compete globally?

The term "wolf culture" was coined by people outside Huawei to satirize us. We didn't come up with the term ourselves. The idea originated from an article where I said that we could learn from wolves' teamwork and perseverance. In the article, I talked about how wolves have sensitive noses, and can smell meat from far away. I hope our employees can learn from wolves to be sensitive to market opportunities and technological development trends. Second, wolves do not hunt alone, but work in teams. This teaches us to value teamwork, and not to fight alone. Third, wolves are tenacious and unyielding. They keep fighting even if they fail at first. We hope our teams can learn from this spirit.

Since not all people can become wolves, they can learn from an animal called the "bei" from ancient Chinese legends instead. Bei were very smart animals, but had short front legs and long hind legs, so they couldn't hunt alone. They had to work with wolves to capture their prey. When they hunted, they held onto a wolf's back. If they saw the wolf running to the wrong direction, they would push it onto the right path. Together, these two animals made a perfect team.

However, in Chinese, the names of these two animals have negative connotations. For over 5,000 years, Chinese society has always been relatively conservative. In our culture, people tend to dislike being too aggressive, and view acting proactively as a negative thing.

Because of this, we didn't come up with a "wolf culture" metaphor on our own. It was proposed by outsiders. In fact, when people first used this term, they thought badly of Huawei. Some experts even wrote that wolves were cruel because they would steal meat from other animals. But that is not what my article was talking about at all. I doubt whether those people read the full article I wrote. But Huawei was not developing very well back then, and many people had a negative perception of Huawei, so this term became quite widely known.

Do you feel the fighting spirit in the organization has increased over the last six months or the last year because of the turbulence, the trade war, and the tech war?

Yes. It has increased. We no longer slack off now, and are becoming stronger and stronger.

Read the final part of this interview in the next edition of GT.

11 November 2019 19:38