Huawei founder and President Ren Zhengfei shared some personal anecdotes and addressed recent global challenges the company was facing in his first interview with an American journalist from TV network CBS.
Ren said he usually avoids external communications, but Huawei’s public relations department believes that his influence is of great benefit in the wake of current international controversies.
In the interview, CBS’s Bianna Golodryga asked Ren if Huawei had ever given any information to the Chinese government, he answered that over the past 30 years Huawei had never done that and he believed Huawei would never do this in the future.
From rags to riches
Ren hails from the poor Guizhou Province in China. Both of his parents were teachers in rural areas, as they believed rural education was a key part of making China prosperous.
However, this career choice meant Ren’s parents struggled financially. Their heavy work load also meant that Ren’s parents couldn’t spend much time with their many children. While this was not ideal, Ren believes it was key to him and his siblings becoming independent and developing strong characters.
“Once we grew up, we knew that we had to work hard to earn a place in society,” said Ren. “I studied every night until 1 a.m. in the morning every day for almost 50 years.”
A simple life
Ren said that his current life remains a simple one – even though he is the founder one of the largest businesses in the world.
“My wife often criticizes me and says that I don’t have many friends or hobbies. I reply that I do have hobbies: reading and writing documents.”
He arrives at work after breakfast at 07:30. Ren believes that he is most efficient between 08:00 and 09:00, which is why he uses this time to review and sign documents.
Between 09:00 and 12:00, he usually attends meetings and listens to reports.
After lunch, Ren interacts with his colleagues, paying particular attention to their thoughts and critiques of the company.
Rewarding great employees
Ren believes that such feedback is crucial towards improving the company.
Ren offered the example of how a 26-year-old employee in a small African country is already managing a national office for Huawei due to his fantastic work.
“If they’ve done great work in the past few years, and they’ve also provided some great criticism, then they’re clearly an outstanding employee and we should fast-track their promotion,” said Ren. “When it comes to making the most of talent, we don’t limit ourselves to a super rigid system.”
Ren’s daughter under house arrest
One of Huawei’s most senior employees, Ren’s daughter and company CFO Meng Wanzhou, was recently placed under house arrest in Canada. She is facing extradition to the United States on suspicion she violated U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.
Ren paints a picture of his daughter as “a very nice person” who “studies hard and works hard.”
“Wanzhou is also very brave,” said Ren. “Right after the huge earthquake in Japan, the one with the tsunami and the nuclear crisis, she hopped on a plane from Hong Kong to Tokyo to help with the disaster relief work.”
While being under house arrest is understandably unpleasant, Ren said that his daughter is handling the situation well.
“Sometimes we talk over the phone,” said Ren. “From what I can tell, she is in good spirits.”
Ren added that Huawei will allow the law to take its due course in the case against Meng.
“The charges made against us are not a verdict. They are only the first steps in a legal process,” he said.
“We can resolve these issues through legal proceedings.”
Perhaps surprisingly given the circumstances, Ren remains a fan of the US legal system, and believes it will reach a favourable verdict.
“The legal systems in the US and Canada are open, just, and equitable. They will ultimately disclose their evidence and remain transparent throughout the entire process.”
Additionally, Ren said he is a fan of US President Donald Trump. “Mr. Trump is a great president,” said Ren. He cites Trump’s cutting of taxes as a reason, saying that this will be good for the US economy.
Ren added that despite recent events, Huawei respects the US, and hopes to do business there in the future.
“We’ve never given up on this country. We keep on trying, and this is because we respect the US.”
“We might fight a bit, but the more we fight, the more they’ll come to realize that we’re not that bad after all. I think we can become good friends.”