Huawei ‘princess’ be­comes pawn in US, China row

Arab News - - Business News - AFP Shang­hai

As the daugh­ter of the com­pany’s founder, Meng Wanzhou was known in­ter­nally as the “princess” of tele­coms gi­ant Huawei and pos­si­ble heir to the throne, but now finds her­self a pawn in the USChina trade clash.

Meng, Huawei’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, was ar­rested in Canada at the re­quest of the US, which seeks to ex­tra­dite her in a move that could blow ten­sions be­tween the two pow­ers wide open.

Her ar­rest fol­lows a US probe into the com­pany’s al­leged vi­o­la­tions of sanc­tions against Iran.

The af­fair is a ma­jor set­back for a woman who had been ris­ing through the com­pany founded by her fa­ther Ren Zhengfei, spark­ing spec­u­la­tion in re­cent years that she would some day as­sume full control.

Do­ing so would make her one of the world’s top fe­male cor­po­rate bosses.

Huawei is the sec­ond-largest smart­phone man­u­fac­turer in the world af­ter Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics, hav­ing over­taken Ap­ple ear­lier this year, and is ranked 72nd on the For­tune Global 500 with rev­enues of nearly $90 bil­lion in the most re­cent fis­cal year.

Its of­fi­cials have taken pains to stress that the com­pany is a mer­i­toc­racy, but there seems lit­tle doubt that fam­ily ties aided Meng’s rise.

Ren, 74, a for­mer Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army engi­neer, founded the com­pany with a few thou­sand dol­lars in 1987, grow­ing it into one of the world’s lead­ing sup­pli­ers of hard­ware for telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works.

He re­mains Huawei’s pres­i­dent. Meng has sought to stress her own “hum­ble” be­gin­nings, with Chi­nese me­dia re­port­ing that she once penned an in­ter­nal memo claim­ing that her first tasks at the Shen­zhen-based com­pany in- volved sec­re­tar­ial work — an­swer­ing phones and act­ing as a typ­ist.

But Meng, re­ported to be in her mid-40s, went on to earn a Chi­nese man­age­ment de­gree and later joined Huawei’s fi­nance depart­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese me­dia, Meng kept her head down for years, to such an ex­tent that few knew who her fa­ther was. This may have been aided by the fact that she took her mother’s sur­name from a young age, for rea­sons that re­main un­clear.

“He is a CEO at work, and a fa­ther at home,” Meng once said of Ren, to em­pha­size that com­pe­tence, not con­nec­tions, de­ter­mined one’s path at Huawei.

In in­ter­views, she has re­ferred to him as “Pres­i­dent Ren,” rather than “fa­ther.”

But Meng’s ca­reer soon took off and she rose to top fi­nan­cial po­si­tions.

Huawei cred­its her for re­or­ga­niz­ing the com­pany’s fi­nan­cial and IT ar­chi­tec­ture begin­ning in the early 2000s, so that the com­pany could cope with its rapid global growth.

Lit­tle is pub­licly known about the un-listed Huawei’s in­ter­nal op­er­a­tions, how­ever, and Meng re­mained an ob­scure fig­ure un­til 2011, when the com­pany un­veiled its top lead­er­ship for the first time with Meng listed as CFO.

From there, she be­gan to as­sume a higher-pro­file fi­nan­cial role.

In con­trast to the of­ten col­or­less male ex­ec­u­tives who pop­u­late the up­per ranks of China Inc., Meng is known for an easy smile and good English, and ap­pears to have taken not one but two English names — “Cathy” and “Sab­rina.”

De­spite be­ing dubbed the “Princess of Huawei,” she is said to be re­spected among com­pany rank and file as ap­proach­able and self­dep­re­cat­ing.

She also ap­pears to have es- chewed the so­cialite lifestyle of her much-younger half-sis­ter, Annabel Yao, a bal­le­rina study­ing at Har­vard Univer­sity.

Spec­u­la­tion that Meng was be­ing groomed for Huawei’s pin­na­cle has in­creased in re­cent years.

In 2013, it was ru­mored that Ren’s son, Ren Ping, was the pa­tri­arch’s fa­vored suc­ces­sor, which Ren Sr. took pains to deny in an in­ter­nal email that was later leaked. But Ren Ping is not cur­rently listed on the com­pany’s board and men­tion of him in Chi­nese me­dia has been rare over the past few years.

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