By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: my copy of the book “Visionaries: Huawei Stories”, by Tian Tao, Yin Zhifeng.
Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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Note: this is the second book review I have done about Huawei. Here is the first one,
Jeff J. Brown reviews, “Huawei Stories: Pioneers”, by Tian Tao and Yin Zhifeng… After reading this book, is it any wonder that Huawei is the global leader in ICT? China Rising Radio Sinoland 210423
If you would like to know why this story is so compelling, get a load of this: the founder and former CEO of the world’s most successful ICT (Information and Communication Technology) company proudly states that his mentor is the founder and longtime leader of the world’s most successful communist-socialist country. Not only that, but he also regularly shares the latter’s speeches and writings to inspire and motivate his 200,000 employees, who all own the same said company. That corporation is Huawei, its founder is Ren Zhengfei, and the last two pieces to the puzzle are Mao Zedong and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – yeah – that Mao Zedong (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2020/05/14/ren-zhengfei-founder-of-huawei-says-my-mentor-is-chairman-mao-zedong-im-not-surprised-are-you-china-rising-radio-sinoland-200515/ and https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2021/02/13/huawei-and-its-founder-ren-zhengfei-are-allegories-for-chinas-millennial-governance-and-its-people-a-reflective-look-at-his-post-trump-biden-era-press-conference-this-week-china-rising-rad/ and https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2019/09/29/huawei-offers-to-tie-both-arms-behind-the-back-so-the-west-can-compete-china-rising-radio-sinoland-190930/).
“Visionaries” is the second book I’ve read and reviewed, that shares the story of Huawei, easily one of the most fascinating and compelling corporations anywhere. This is thanks to my younger daughter getting a job there in Dusseldorf, Germany and Paris, France, which naturally fueled my interest. In the interim, the Trump Era’s manifold sanctions against Huawei and the rest of China Tech exploded across the planet. Then, the USA and Canada kidnapped the company’s chief financial officer (CFO) for three years, Meng Wanzhou, who happens to be Ren Zhengfei’s daughter. Connecting the dots, I did a huge amount of research and had the chance to visit my daughter’s research center in Paris. All of this horizon expanding knowledge made me realize just how much Huawei is the perfect allegory for the West’s desperate attempts to crush not only Huawei and China Tech, but the very country itself (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2021/05/03/huawei-continues-to-be-the-perfect-allegory-for-why-the-wests-desperate-efforts-to-destroy-the-chinese-nation-are-doomed-to-fail-the-latest-reports-china-tech-news-flash-103-china-risin/). It got to the point that I created a bilingual Huawei library of all my research, writing and reporting (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2021/02/20/huawei-online-resource-collection-by-china-rising-radio-sinoland-and-china-tech-news-flash-%e5%8d%8e%e4%b8%ba%e5%9c%a8%e7%ba%bf%e8%b5%84%e6%ba%90%e6%94%b6%e9%9b%86%e3%80%82-%e5%b4%9b%e8%b5%b7/)
It was my daughter who sent me these two books about Huawei. Being allegorical for our current East versus West geopolitical headlines, it should be interesting to anybody who wants to be in the global loop and keep score. The earlier “Pioneers” is all about how Huawei developed its multi-faceted business across the planet, in many countries you may have trouble finding on a map.
Today’s book review of “Visionaries” is all about Huawei’s initial lack in financing, financial controls, accounting and bookkeeping, as it exploded onto the global tech scene, finding itself spreading across every continent except Antarctica. Huawei was growing like a bamboo forest in the hot tropics, but no one really knew for sure what was profitable, what was losing money, who had or had not paid, and which projects were or were not succeeding in all those countries.
It was a frigging mess. Money was rolling in and kept rapidly expanding Huawei in the black, however the financial and accounting departments were butt end of jokes and raised eyebrows throughout the company. Ren Zhengfei was raising hell and the business departments were pounding their fists. Something had to be done.
What was lacking was a vision and a purpose, other than just trying to get bank loans and count soybeans. When I finished the preface, metaphorically entitled with the axiom, The Bitter Cold of Winter Gives a Warm Fragrance to Plum Blossoms in Spring, I knew I was learning about a Chinese company. When I finished the chapter, I did a double take: it was written by Sabrina Meng. Knowing from all my investigations and exposés about Meng Wanzhou’s apprehension in Canada, I remembered that Sabrina was her adopted Western first name. Thus, the CFO of mighty Huawei was offering to the world her professional mea culpa and her resolve, plans and vision to fix it all!
Mandarin is a language rich in metaphor, allegory and personification. No surprise then that Meng, on just her first page waxed,
We were like a headless chicken, running around aimlessly and constantly weighed down by our work.
We are like a tiny sapling, yearning to grow.
The strong pass of the enemy is like a wall of iron, yet with firm strides, we are conquering its summit (Chinese poem).
…we look ahead, wings extended, aiming to fly higher.
With that, Meng stated with vision and purpose,
Our goal is to be the best financial practitioners in the ICT industry… Once we had goals, we made commitments. Once we made commitments, we had to live by them.
Which is what they did. From the beginning, Ren Zhengfei said Huawei should be guided by business and monitored by finance. Early on, the prior got the best of the latter, nevertheless now a new dawn awaits the company and for its employees to climb ever greater heights. It is safe to say that if they hadn’t taken this visionary action, when the USA moved decisively to destroy Huawei, they might not have survived.
Like the first book I read, “Pioneers”, the rest of “Visionaries” is made up of chapters, which are testimonials of different employees who have made a difference. While full of hope and can-do attitude, they do not flinch from recounting just how bad finance was at Huawei, when it was decided to right the ship.
Don’t be put off by the themes of finance and accounting. Huawei learns to weave these disciplines throughout every facet of the corporation. Anyone who works in business/development, research, negotiation, contracts, marketing, quality control, training, manufacturing, technology, project management, team building, process automation and integration; logistics, operations, engineering, infrastructure, installation, and inter-departmental relations will find plenty to benefit from here. Not to mention that learning about one of the world’s most successful global technology companies is fascinating in itself.
Full of philosophical pearls of wisdom, self-reflection, self-criticism, true grit, courage and boundless optimism when all seems hopeless, the storytelling in “Visionaries” is an inspiration for just about everyone.
The book speaks for itself. The following are extracts from “Visionaries”, front to back, 20 chapters, to give you a sense of how Huawei’s leadership and employees drove it to be one of the best managed businesses around,
- Internal controls act as a lubricant as well as the brakes… Increasing our harvests and making our business environment more fertile.
- (We developed) the Four Threes: three types of risk, three financial risk control centers, three lines of defense, three levels of review.
- We see a powerful desire to change the world, to realize the value of the organization, and to drive personal growth.
- I see the petals out in the courtyard, and gaze out at the swirling clouds in the sky (Chinese poem).
- When you travel upriver, if you stop rowing you will go backwards. We have to work harder, be more dedicated, and more open. The flame of youth can ignite an entire life without regrets.
- Such experiences and moments have built deep relationships between us, bringing us together like the roots of an old tree.
- Life can be both bitter and sweet.
- Our CEO Mr. Ren Zhengfei once said we need to tie knots with the threads we own, and by tying knots, we can make nets, with which we can catch fish.
- My records show that I have processed 1,036,000 payments, and my run of zero errors is now 12 years long.
- I had not seen the job for what it was: the first step on a long road.
- It doesn’t matter how many times you fall. What matters is that you get back up again.
- If you don’t have a teacher, then you are the teacher.
- Every single employee is like a vector: we all have a magnitude and a direction, and we are much stronger when we work in the same direction.
- The spirit of craftsmanship means that our time here has meant something.
- The more rapidly we develop, the higher risks we will encounter. In addition, we face greater risks in our operations. In the 170-plus countries and regions where we operate, we face all kinds of risks, including wars, diseases, and currency-related issues. We do not hold back because of risks, nor do we ignore risks in order to progress.
- CEO Ren Zhengfei said: finance needs to solid, and the business team needs to be bold… We must harvest a large amount of grain, but also that it must be good quality grain.
- We learned to handle risks in the midst of risks!
- We still have a long way to go, but we are always moving forward. We explore, try new things, stumble, and pick ourselves up. We hope to construct an “iron shield” that will repel financial risks, from global macro-events down to projects. We hope to be the defenders of Huawei’s future.
- Nothing beats you harder than time… Happiness comes from a life packed with memories!
- Cleaving to the mountain never letting go; roots sunk deeply in jagged stone… Still standing strong and firm after many storms, no matter what direction the wind blows (Chinese poem).
- Huawei requires its employees to finish whatever they take on. You have to be able to get things done.
- Leave no stone unturned.
- It is said that all encounters are a kind of reunion.
- A man adapts to his circumstances.
- Life is serendipity. It cannot be planned or designed.
- Huawei has given me the broadest possible stage, expanded my horizons, and made my life richer.
- I have always thought that life is about more than just money. So long as you’ve got enough to get by, then you should think about other aspects of a good life. Life needs breadth and depth.
- Whatever you are working on, you should always gain a full understanding before expressing an opinion.
- No matter what position I hold, so long as I am proactive, conscientious, and hard-working I will be able to leverage my value, grow and benefit.
- My biggest concern is actually “black swans”. We have to ask, “What if…?” all the time.
- I would like to share an example of business culture. In 2010, Huawei had a record year in terms of profits. Everybody was very excited because they got big bonuses. However, Huawei’s CEO Mr. Ren Zhengfei said he was very upset. Why was he upset when Huawei was making huge profits? He explained that fantastic profits meant Huawei had charged its customers too much. In other words, Huawei has taken money from our customers that they could have used to grow their business. Mr. Ren Zhengfei looked at Huawei’s success from the perspective of the entire ecosystem. He was concerned about the business success of Huawei and our customers, whereas Western companies only care about their own success (and that success is often achieved at the expense of others). I was inspired by Mr. Ren Zhengfei’s philosophy and shared it with my non-Chinese peers. They gradually came to understand the difference between Chinese and Western business culture.
- A sense of accomplishment matters more than pay.
- Adversity reveals genius.
- Huawei is totally different from my previous employer, a Western company. In that company, everyone had their own patch of ground to take care of. They just had to do their own work. There was no “upside” to breaking down barriers. At Huawei, there are no individual patches of ground, and there are no ceilings. It’s like being a seed in the earth: no one tells you how to grow, and the company doesn’t lay stones so that you can only grow in certain ways. There is plenty of space, no boundaries or limits, so if a seed is willing to push through, it can have as much earth as it wants. It can grow as high as its own limitations will allow. It’s entirely up to you, and how hard you are willing to push… If you are ready to push the envelope, stake your claim on the world, and take on responsibility, then you will receive support and appreciation. When we push the limits, our colleagues and managers do not shut us down for getting too big for our boots. They invite us to sit at the table with them… Maybe this culture is what makes Huawei so attractive. Generations of Huawei pioneers have thought and invented outside the box, and inspired the next generation by creating opportunities for them, embracing and encouraging them, and leading by example. This is what has created today’s Huawei in all its vibrancy, and I am proud to be a part of it.
- A mouthful of food won’t make you grow fat.
- It was the cooperation with Huawei and China Development Bank that generated the warmth needed to melt the ice and allow the water of the river to make its way to the sea.
- The Research and Analysis (R&A) project was the fire, and we – and Huawei – were the phoenixes born again from the ashes!
- But even the most noticeable bruise does eventually fade.
- Treat every cent (penny) seriously. Be meticulous, be patient, and be responsible. Do everything to the best of your ability.
- You know the best way to overcome adversity? Hold on one more minute and take one more step.
- We can always progress by embracing the challenges before us.
- The entire process is streamlined end-to-end (what we like to call “the era where humans dance with machines”).
- Only by constantly honing our skills and maintaining our sense of responsibility can we better support the business.
- Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
- It is my true and firm belief that the biggest responsibility I have is to get my job done right, one step at a time. I have to do the best job I can, focus on employee needs while ensuring business runs smoothly.
- Upon hearing that, my heart dropped faster and further than the snow falling outside my window.
- Old problems were buried by new ones, which grew into further problems. It was a true Gordian Knot, which we were tasked with unravelling.
- I was aware of the challenges ahead. We were looking up at a very tall, very steep peak. But it was going to be climbed one step at a time.
- To me, responsibility means getting routine jobs done, and done well. Going the extra mile makes a huge difference.
- People may come and go, but numbers don’t lie.
- I was determined to not just be the numbers girls anymore.
- Basic competence is one thing. Mastery of a skill is quite another: a different stage, and a different psychological state… Projects are like rock climbing. If you haven’t planned out you route to the summit properly, then you won’t be able to correctly work out each step along the way… I felt like I had reached the summit of a mountain.
- But I have made my choice, and for me that’s as good as a promise. I won’t be a deserter.
- It is another test of character: once you start a new route, there’s no turning back. You have to follow the path through to the end. There may be people giving you a hand or showing you the way forward, but no one can carry you all the way to the summit. You have to make it there yourself. Youth gives us energy and bravado. What I need to develop is the courage to face up to difficulties and to push through when the going gets tough… When I’m old, I’m sure I will look back on the time I spent in this little country with its power cuts and its seismic grumblings. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”, as they say! I still have years to work here in Nepal, and lots more to learn. On the long road, I will keep on improving and growing. That’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?
- We couldn’t keep on as we were, spinning our tires without any traction.
- My heart was almost ready to jump out of my chest. We were backed into a corner with nowhere to run. There was nothing to do but roll up our sleeves and “get’r done”.
- If miracles really exist, they are just another word for hard work.
- May the course of our lives be like a powerful river, steaming relentlessly onward, always and forever building in strength. May our hearts remain undaunted as we pursue our dreams. May we meet new friends as though living a song, and may our friendships be as strong as steel.
- With no help coming from outside, we began to look within instead.
- But this is not the end of our journey; it is a new beginning.
- Everything we do is for the success of the business. We go far beyond just following orders; our goal is to make sure our company survives and thrives.
- There are many paths that lead to the top of a mountain, and Huawei’s finance team has chosen the straightest and narrowest of them all. We have a basic set of principles – a fundamental way of doing things – and we hold true to them, no matter how much pressure we are under or how much they conflict with other interests. If we didn’t hold true to these basic principles, it would ultimately harm the company. Doing things right is what we need to work towards… We have our eyes on the summit of success. We focus on the business, face challenges head-on, and step up to new responsibilities. We will do everything we can to help our people on the ground blaze new trails.
I find all these observations and experiences very insightful and uplifting. Having lived and worked for 16 years with the Chinese people and travelled all over the country, these excerpts fully reflect their deeply engrained Confucist-Daoist-Buddhist philosophical bedrock and belief system – especially including modern day Mao Zedong. If you were working for a global ICT company, how would you feel about the viewpoints and ambitions of your biggest competitor? Do you think you could learn something from them?
At home, work or play, I think we all can.
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