Concerning our customers, all the top telecom operators are our customers right now. We are serving 45 out of 50 telecom operators. We are also very strong in the enterprise market. Also, transportation, industry, railway system, banking, etc we are also very strong in those areas as well. To talk about Nigeria; Nigeria is the heart of Huawei in West Africa and the whole of Africa. We have been in Nigeria for 15 years. We first came here in 1999 and I first came here in 2006. Since I came here I have seen a lot of improvement on the company. We have roughly 2,000 staff, 70% of whom are Nigerians, and also we have indirectly created about 20,000 jobs. We also purchase a lot locally. We have local suppliers. Whatever we can buy locally, we buy locally. And all these jobs we create are engineers because if the country doesn’t get result, it is not sustainable. One different thing with Huawei’s system of community engagement is that every year we make profit, we re-invest into the country we operate in; we don’t take it away to China. I don’t know if you are aware, since 2005, we have a training centre in Abuja; we’ve trained over 2,000 engineers and up till today, no company has a proper training centre like that for training engineers here in Nigeria. The issue is we always believe it is good to be close to our customers. We believe every customer in Nigeria deserves first class service. We don’t have to say you should go to China or India because of just an issue. They will not understand your issue. Rather, we deal with issues right here. We are the only company doing that. Besides the 2,000 staff we have in Nigeria, we have about 1,000 to 2,000 contract staff. We have a very big employee base to serve the customer well. We believe everything should be here, not somewhere in China. That is why we are very good at doing something for our customers. If you see our people and our staff, we are a good quality company
Principle of enriching lives
Globally speaking, we invest 10-12% of our revenue into research. Last year, we invested about $5.3billion into research and development, because we are investing for the future. For Huawei, we are the first to invent the 5G technology in the world. That was several months ago. Nigeria is still on 3G, but the world is talking about 4G now. Europe, China and America are already on 4G, and now, we are already thinking beyond 5G. So we are inventing new technology to help people because our philosophy is to enrich people’s lives through comfortable living. I have been here for eight and half years; if we have been cheating the people and have not been doing the job properly, if we have not been treating our staff well enough, I may not have stayed this long; I would have gone back after two years. So you see, we are a very serious company. I believe Nigeria is a home for us. Things started here for Huawei since I came here. I climbed my career ladder in the past seven years. I witnessed Huawei here becoming better and better.
Nigeria, a great country
Also I see the country growing very fast. Nigeria is a great country and the people are intelligent, very diligent; and they are very smart. So we really want to grow this place better. This year, we will be focusing more on the enterprise market and also smartphone business. At the same time, we want to tell people that we are not typical of how people see Chinese companies. We are the ones changing Chinese companies’ image; this is the truth. If you read international news magazines, global magazines or newspapers, when they talk about a new technology company from China, they talk of Huawei.
Time to push our smartphone globally
Now we want to start pushing our smartphones into the market aggressively. People in the street don’t know us that much. Before, we don’t talk to the media much, but now people have to hear about us, and see us. We want them to know that we are a good quality company, unlike what they think about Chinese products. It may be true that some cheap products could come out of China. But we are different; because Huawei is a solid brand. Huawei is a brand that you can rely on; and you see quality everywhere we operate. Our quality is really good. The phone, Ascend P7 is quality standard at same level with such others as iPhone, and Samsung, and at the same time, it is 20% cheaper in price. We just try to give good pricing everywhere. We have a unified price. Whatever we sell in China is what we sell here; so that our customers can afford it.
Why Ren Zhengfei Founded Huawei
Ren Zhengfei, founder of Huawei, is a shy person and he is very low key. To make money is not what he wanted to do when he founded Huawei. He just wanted to improve lives of human beings, so that was why. And also, at the very beginning, he didn’t talk to the media, unless the last few years when he just started talking to the media. In Wall Street Journal or Financial Times this year, he started to take questions because people say the company has grown bigger and bigger now. We told him people have to know us, smartphone business and much more; because now we need to do B2C. He’s got nothing to hide.
Nigeria can be No. 1 in the World
After giving the testimony of Huawei Technology’s philosophy and principle of partnership with staff, MR. JIMIN took a few questions, giving further insights into the company’s operations in Africa’s largest market and his aspirations for the country:
Question: Doing business in a place like Nigeria and being the number one supplier, apart from the people you employ, what exactly do you do to give back to the economy and the government of Nigeria?
Answer: Actually we do a lot of CSR activities; every year we give back to the society. This year, we sponsored 1,000 widows and children. We helped the widows and the children to continue their education. Basically all the CSR activities Huawei did is related to technology. We put some money down, we help the poor people, and we help those who are eager to learn. We equip them with knowledge. Let me give you another example, in our training centre in Abuja, we train so many Huawei staff, customers and university students. Secondly, the difference between Huawei and other people is we are the one who own the technology, patent, we are among the top three patent owners in the world; so we can teach people technology, which is unique and somehow it’s even more than money. In China we always say ‘to get people a fish, it’s better you teach them how to fish’. Yes we spent some money, but at the same time we try to organise training program to help people to know more about technology. So basically, we bring Nigeria to the cutting edge of technology so they can experience top technology right here in Nigeria; not necessarily to go to another country to get it.
Let me ask you a question about what people say generally about Chinese companies. They say that Chinese companies go into sharp practices in order to get business. Does Huawei do that?
We actually don’t do that. For Huawei, we are not pursuing short term benefit, but long term partnership and we have been here all over the world for 26 years. We are building up our position all over the world. We are a top rank. May be not well known for ordinary people but for people like you in the industry, you know Huawei is a top quality brand, a respected company. The reason is because everywhere in the world, we respect the law, we strictly respect the law. We don’t do this type of a funny thing. It’s not just about making more money; it’s more about partnership because Huawei believes in how to grow the company together in partnership. A lot of companies in Nigeria for example don’t pay corporate tax. But we always strictly obey law. Another point is all our staff, including myself, our salary is paid here in Nigeria, not in China. And as a result, we pay individual tax in this country. When we make profit, we pay corporate tax in this country, which some other companies don’t do. I am not talking about just Chinese companies, I am talking generally, because some other companies don’t do this; because, for us saving money is not the purpose. We believe in long term partnership because if the people, the customers like us, sooner or later in the long run, we will benefit from that, and at the same time, we want our customers and users to benefit from that.
People say that the British and French colonised many countries in Africa. China doesn’t want to colonise people but they are quietly colonising African economically. When companies like your own come into Africa, are you indirectly carrying out that Chinese policy?
First of all, I don’t think it’s a Chinese policy. Yes in the last 27 years China developed so fast, but to be frank with you, we are still a developing country; we still have a lot of poor people in China. We still have a lot of people who don’t have food, living below one dollar per day, just similar to some aspects in Nigeria and I am sure the number is not less than that of Nigeria because we have a big population; that my personal opinion, not that of Huawei. For example in the office, I don’t carry myself as the boss or command people around. If I come to the office without my identity card, they will stop me and not let me come into the office. So we treat people equally. We are here to partner with the country; that’s the Huawei policy everywhere we operate. We in China had a very bad experience in late 19th century to early 20th century. It was a dark era of China history; I don’t want to mention the details but it was not a good experience. We don’t want what happened to us to happen to our friends; and to be frank with you, we believe in win-win, because win-lose is not a stable situation. Win-win is the only stable thing and that is why for Huawei or for China, when we are here to do business, we want win-win; because if we win and you lose, probably we are going to lose also. You see, some of the companies, they don’t play fair. I am not saying everybody is right; not necessarily Chinese companies, even some Nigerian companies, they go to China to buy very low quality cheap things and they sell them very expensive here. Yes they win on a short term; they make money. But really, people think that Chinese product is not of good quality, which is damaging Chinese reputation and gradually, people refuse to pay good price for Chinese products. So by the end of the day, are they winning or losing? They are losing. So that is why everybody should have the partnership philosophy. And again, this country and the whole of Africa, for the future, we should be partners and work in partnership.
You said that initially Huawei focus was B2B, and now it’s going to be more of B2C. Can you give me a brief insight to the strategy that Huawei has for instance to market its handsets in Nigeria?
Actually, for us to market our handsets, it can be difficult, but it need not be difficult. What I mean or the reason why I said it’s difficult is because we used to be B2B, we know we don’t know we were not focused on this consumer thing, how to do advertising, how to do promotion, how to attract consumers, because we only previously on how to convince industry leaders but did not focus on how to convince ordinary people; how to make a lady like our phone. So that is why I said it could be difficult. The reason why I said it may also not be very difficult is because indeed we are a good quality company, we are a top brand company, so our testimony is that people know the truth, the fact, which is enough. Other companies bluff, make stories, which we don’t have to, we just need to try to find the way to make people know the truth about Huawei, which is a modern, very hard working, innovative, high technology top quality company. As far as people know the facts, I’m sure people will prefer our products and buy and use our products. That is why I said it’s difficult, and it’s not that difficult.
Let’s go to the operators. It’s more or less like Huawei is in charge of all the operators in Nigeria. What challenges do you face in delivering on network issues to all the operators?
Yes, we are working with all the operators. Indeed, we have challenges but the challenges we have, I don’t think it’s unique compared with other countries or companies, they are general common challenges. Let’s say sometimes, it’s security challenge where we are working, let’s say in certain areas of the country; power failure, and so on. But I don’t see the challenges. What I see is the bright side of the country. A lot of people say there are challenges in the country, but I like to see the bright side of the country because every country has its own problem. In China, we have our own. Even America, they have their own problem. There is no country that is perfect, neither is Nigeria. But people should not be too demanding on this country. There are issues everywhere, please give people more time. We had the same issue 27 years ago and we solved it and I am sure Nigeria will solve hers too. We have to be patient. That is why I said yes we have challenges while doing our business, but I don’t think the challenges are unique to us; I think the challenges are controllable. And, generally speaking, Nigeria remains a good marketplace for business. And that is why we are here. Those who say the country has problem, it’s not the country; they are the ones that have issues with themselves, not the country.
Is Huawei into transportation like train, rail system?
We are going into that already; because in China and some other countries, we are the biggest supplier already for the communication network for trains; because you could see that the communication network for train is different. It’s better than the high speed train. If you go to China, from Shanghai to Beijing, the high speed train is like 400km per hour and people still want to make phone calls and chat on their phones, people still want to be downloading at that speed, so we need a special infrastructure for that and we are the biggest supplier, not only in China but in other parts of the world. We want to bring the technology to Nigeria also. Other companies bring cheap quality to Nigeria, which is not good. Nigerian people deserve the best quality. I have been here for eight and half years, I know Nigerian people very well. I don’t think the economy of Nigeria is different from other places. Some people say African people don’t need good quality. No, that is not true. They also want the best quality, best experience. Look at Facebook and Twitter; they are very popular now, so everybody deserves and wants the feeling of the best technology. That is why we want to bring new technology to Nigeria. We don’t want to supply old-fashion technology like some companies did before; I don’t want to mention names but some companies supplied old fashion technology to Nigeria. Some people did it and it affected the people. So what we want to do is to bring new technology, tailor-made solutions, not the technology we used in China 20 years ago. We don’t want to do that at all.
You said we have 3G here which you supplied and there is already 5G in China which you are also doing. Why do you want to wait before you bring 5G here?
It’s about the frequency because in Nigeria for example, I’m sure you know about technology. For the GSM operators, they don’t have a licence yet for the LTE frequencies; so, it’s also a regulatory issue here. We have 900 for the 2G, 1800 for 2G, 2100 for 3G. They need a licence for the LTE. The frequency they have is not big enough to cater for LTE. The technology matured long ago. The first LTE we built was in Norway in 2007. If I remember correctly, Huawei and Ericsson together built the first LTE network in either Sweden or Norway.
Which is to say that technically, it is the regulatory issues that we need to be able to have a licence for you people to be able to bring 5G here?
I cannot say it is an issue. I think it is on the agenda or calendar already. I am sure they have their reason for not having issued those licences yet; because from another angle, with 3G, there is still a capacity operator can offer, so I don’t think LTE is stopping anything, because technology is the pipeline; content is what you drive. As long as the pipe is big enough for you to enjoy content, that is okay. I don’t think LTE not being here is a challenge; it’s not stopping anything, and I am sure it will be here sooner or later.
You have been in Nigeria for eight and half years. When you visit China, do you miss Nigeria?
I miss Nigeria. Let me tell you a story first. Anytime I come back to Lagos, I always remember the first afternoon I came to Nigeria in 2006. It was sunny afternoon, the air was not too dry, it was humid. I always have that memory anytime I come back to Nigeria. For me, Nigeria is a great country because first of all, Nigerian people are very smart and intelligent, they are one of the most intelligent people I have seen and worked with, and very smart. Secondly, you see my staff, they know what to do, even if a customer comes late, they will wait and work late. Unlike in other countries where they will say no, boss; even if you will pay me, I will not wait. Nigerian people share the same quality with Chinese people and I am sure people will get rewarded for that. Also, I think Nigerian people are very nice people because in some countries, not necessarily Chinese, they are not friendly, and they feel you have come to take money from them. You know we are here to do business so we can share a lot of benefits together. So with all of this, I think Nigeria is a very good country. What I always believe, every country has its own time. Let me tell you, if you look back in history, China had its own time; if you look back, China, for 500 years or more was number one in the world; about 500 or 600 years ago, Iraq too during that length of time had been a top country in the world; same as Egypt, India; every one of them had their time. America is having its time now; Nigeria will have its time. In Chinese history, we have different nationalities: we have Han, which constitutes about 90% of Chinese people and some minorities. In history, it is not all the time the Han people rule. Sometimes, the minorities of 2-3% rule China, which tells me that everybody has their own time. A lot of people don’t believe Nigeria can be number one in the world, but I really believe so. It’s just a matter of time. If China could achieve so much in the last 30 years, why can’t Nigeria. I don’t see any difference. You speak better English than we Chinese; we have English issues, which is more difficult. You don’t have this issue. So I think Nigeria even has a better chance. It just takes sometime. Sometimes, we just need to be patient. Because what you see now, in life, may be you go to a very good university, you don’t have a job; you could be in your dark period and you could not find a good job, or you have to start your own business, don’t be too worried. In 19th century, we were worried too, but now, we are very confident, we are not yet there, but we are moving in the right direction. I know a lot of Nigerian people worry, but they should not be worried. You are good people, you have resources, you have oil, big land and you have big population, there is no reason you cannot be successful.
Many multinationals that come to Nigeria don’t buy their own property; they don’t build their own property. You are the very first company to set up a training centre in Nigeria. Would we see Huawei be the first company to build its own headquarters in Nigeria?
What we do is that we don’t buy buildings anywhere we operate, not just in Nigeria, even in China, we don’t buy. We believe as a technology company, all our cost should be either service or training for staff or new machinery that we buy. We don’t invest in property. Even manufacture, we don’t manufacture. All our manufacturing needs, we give to our suppliers to do. We don’t build our own building or buy land. Rather, we maintain long lease on properties. We invest in two things: we invest in human beings. There are so many people now working for us and it’s not a problem if they quit one day to start a new career, because we see ourselves as a university. You see, if some day you find 100 people in the industry and find that 70% used to work for Huawei, it’s good for us. We invest in people; we spend so much money in training. Secondly, we invest in equipment. We have a data centre in Nigeria; nobody else has, the NOC (network operating centre). We always focus on new technology which is very expensive because we want people to have the best technology.
As the MD of almost 2000 staff, and everybody is busy, you are busy. When do you have time to relax?
To be frank with you, Monday to Friday, I am normally very busy. Saturday and Sunday, I am also working, but not full day because I try to get half day to rest. So what I do is I like to exercise. I like to work out on my treadmill, I have a small gym for myself, I like to swim, I don’t have time to play Golf because it takes five hours. It’s good, but I just don’t have the luxury to do that. By the way, I don’t want to get up by 5.00 in the morning. Our people play football, basketball, we actually have one basketball court for our staff; we built it for our staff. We also run football club for people, we organize football match between our customer and staff. Also, Chinese people like Karaoke, so sometimes, we organize something like that, do parties. Sometimes before I go to sleep, I like to watch movies, American movies or soaps for like 40 minutes just to calm down and prepare for the next day.
Are you married?
When you get married, how many children would you want to have?
I plan to have may be two to three children.
It used to be one family one child in China?
Not anymore and what happened was in my own opinion, it was a good measure because in late 1970-1980, China was so populated. We are talking about one billion plus and China was a poor country at that time. We could not feed people. Think about it, you don’t have money and you want to have five children. It doesn’t make sense. Most of the GDP increase was being eaten up by new babies. So I think it was the right decision. But now, it is different. China’s economy is more developed now. Like my family, friends and staff, we have good salaries. Most of the Huawei staff have two children. Very few Huawei staff have one child; my colleagues, most of them have two children. Now we can give them proper education and every other thing. And also, you know Chinese population now is stable and we don’t want a situation where the population will start to be ageing like in the next 10 years when we will start to lose people and would not have enough labour power. So it’s a good policy now. Basically, what they are saying in government now is if husband and wife want to have children now, they are allowed to have two. However, if they still want to have the third child, it’s still all right, it’s just to pay your fine. There is no way they will say you cannot have another baby. So if you want more babies, it’s your choice.
You are MD today, you were not MD some years back. Some days to come may be when you want to retire, you want to leave Huawei and go and relax, what would you like to be remembered by?
I think the people who work with me, I mean the people in my office, and also my partners and my customers. To be frank with you, even if I leave Nigeria one day, I will still come back. Some of the friends I’ve made; my customers, partners and my employees, I have been here for eight and half years and I don’t plan to leave this country in a short time. Probably if I have known them for 10 years, and you know how many 10 years you have in your life and this 10 years is a very important 10 years; so this kind of feeling or bonding between Huawei or these Nigerians and these my friends who have worked with me, and also, it’s a small world now, may be in the next 10 years, to fly to China, it may not take so many hours, the time may even be shorter. For sure, we got to chat on Facebook, Twitter, video-conferencing etc. I don’t think we are going to say farewell because we are still going to meet from time to time. And as I said, mark my words, Nigeria will play a very important role in the world, I am very sure about that.