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Ren Zhengfei, CEO of Huawei.

Justin Solomon | CNBC

On a hot summer morning at Huawei’s new European-themed campus outside of Shenzhen, a man resembling a younger version of company founder Ren Zhengfei was dressing down two subordinates.

“Use your brain to think!” he scolded, apparently dissatisfied at how they were handling visitors at the lavish facility, which features replicas of European cities and monuments.

The man was Steven Ren Shulu, 63, the younger brother of Ren Zhengfei, who joined Huawei in 1992 and is now supervisor of the board. The encounter was witnessed by chance by a Reuters reporter during a visit to the campus in August.

Huawei may be one of China’s most global companies — with more than 180,000 employees in more than 170 countries running a telecommunications and technology business that generates more than $100 billion annually — but it still has elements of a family firm, with members of Ren’s family playing key roles in web of side businesses, many of which have nothing to do with telecoms.

Often those side businesses, which range from hotels to food and wine, cater mainly to the Huawei employees and customers.

The role of Ren’s daughter, chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, is widely known, especially in the wake of her arrest in Canada last December on U.S. charges relating to sanctions violations.

Far less visible are Ren’s brother, son and wife, but all play big roles within Huawei’s subsidiaries.

The 74-year old Zhengfei Ren officially owns just 1.14% of privately held Huawei, but retains absolute authority, according to insiders at the firm, where he holds veto power and where his speeches are regularly circulated to all staff for study.

Housing and hotels

With the title of Chief Logistics Officer at Huawei, younger brother Steven Ren’s broad brief includes overseeing construction, catering and hospitality.

That includes the final phase of the lavish new Songshan Lake campus in Dongguan, with offices for 25,000 employees, as well as a new apartment block for employees near Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters that is expected to be built by 2023.

Huawei declined to answer questions on the scope of its housing benefits for employees.

In this picture taken on May 30, 2019, employees walk to work in the morning at the Huawei Songshan Lake Campus in Dongguan, China’s Guangdong province.

Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images

It is not uncommon for large Chinese state-owned or private corporations to build infrastructure including housing for employees and to provide hospitality for visiting potential customers, said Colin Hawes, an associate professor at the University of Technology, Sydney who specializes in Chinese corporate governance.

Ren Zhengfei’s son, 44-year-old Ren Ping, is now the boss of Shenzhen Smartcom Business, a Huawei subsidiary whose holdings include more than a dozen hotels and serviced apartments in China, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. The hotels also mostly serve Huawei employees and clients, though some — such as the Amber House in Nanjing — can be booked by anyone online.

At the 5-star Amber Prime Hotel in Dongguan, next to Huawei’s new campus, the stylish rooms come with Huawei AI speakers as well as a special TV channel with clips of Huawei executives’ recent speeches.

Huawei declined to make Steven Ren, Ren Ping or another Smartcom executive available for interview.

Wining and dining

Ren Ping is also president of Shanghai Mossel Trade, a subsidiary where Ren Zhengfei’s wife also works, according to Chinese company registration records. Named after Mossel Bay in South Africa, the company sells imported foods from around the world including Huawei-labeled wines, premium beef and fine rice, according to its website.

Most of its patrons are internal, though Mossel’s e-commerce platform and bricks-and-mortar stores on Huawei campuses are open to outside customers too. Huawei did not respond to questions about why it set up Mossel in 2010, though a story in the Guardian newspaper in April quoted a spokesman saying it arose after the company took part-payment in the form of wine and beef from an Argentinian customer seeking to avoid currency controls.

Some employees told Reuters they found the Mossel goods too pricey, though others said they liked its high-quality selection of wines and foods from around the world – and that the Huawei logo on the products make for good corporate gifts.

Huawei’s leisure travel subsidiary, HWTrip.com, another part of Ren Ping’s Smartcom business, appears to have fallen victim to the U.S. government’s campaign against Huawei: a notice on its website says it closed in August as Huawei needed to “focus on its main channel during war times”.

Hawes said Huawei’s family connections were nothing out of the ordinary for private firms in China.

“It’s partly an issue of whom the CEO can trust, and also a Confucian-style sense of obligation to share one’s success with family members,” Hawes said.

Ren has stated on multiple occasions that none of his family members, including Sabrina Meng, would succeed him as Huawei CEO.

Interviews with nearly a dozen employees turned up no signs of resentment about the role of Ren’s family members.

“I don’t care what the boss’s family does as long as I get my pay and dividends,” said one employee-shareholder who declined to be named.

Watch: Huawei CEO says company considering licensing its 5G tech exclusively to a US firm

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Boris Johnson can turn his victory into history if he can save the UK from division

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street for Buckingham Palace where he will seek permission to form the next government during an audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Downing Street on December 13, 2019 in London, England.

Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

It is just the sort of script one might expect from Boris Johnson, one of the most enigmatically fascinating personalities of our times.

Prime Minister Johnson – who famously craves both public attention and a place in history – won the former and a shot at the latter through a British election victory this week that was the most convincing conservative victory since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. To save the United Kingdom itself, however, he must reverse course, or at least amend direction, on much of what he has said and done to win in the first place.

I opposed Brexit on economic and political grounds yet, at the same time, Johnson might have the political flexibility, the intellectual chops and the Churchillian ambition to confound his critics along the five lines of action he must simultaneously pursue to find his historic place.

  • Most importantly, he’ll have to negotiate a “no-tariffs, no-quotas” trade deal by end-2020 with a European Union that he has disparaged, knowing that it by some distance is the U.K.’s major trade partner.
  • Second, he will have to rapidly restore external economic confidence in a country that has been suffering disinvestment, an economic slowdown, and doubts about its continued role as a European and global financial hub.
  • Third, he should still aspire to get a trade and investment deal with an impeachment-distracted President Trump. At the same time, he should share with voters how unlikely that will be and embrace what might be faster and easier opportunities in Asia, namely negotiating his way into the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
  • Fourth, he’ll have to abandon much of the populist rhetoric that got him elected and embrace his encouraging “One Nation” message of this week that could heal the country’s divisions – and perhaps also slow a European-wide and global populist trend.
  • Finally, he’ll need save the United Kingdom from unraveling by convincing Scotland and Northern Ireland of their future place – while heading off another Scottish independence referendum. A successful EU negotiation will help that.

Media pundits in recent months have compared and associated the rise of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump as populists who have turned their countries’ politics upside down. Yet the comparisons only go so far, given Boris’ bookish, multilingual, multicultural background and intellectual passion.

He was born in Manhattan as Alexander, then raised in Brussels until age 11, before being shipped to British boarding a year after his mother’s breakdown, a life richly chronicled by Tom McTague in The Atlantic last July. Somewhere along the way the quiet child became the boisterous, eccentric British Boris. He developed a comic demeanor, a disheveled mean (and mane), a rapier intellect with a taste for the classics, and an insatiable desire to be liked.

From all of this grew his self-proclaimed ambition to be “world king.”

“I often thought that the idea of being world king,” said his mother of her illness’ impact on Boris, “was a wish to make him unhurtable, invincible somehow, safe from the pains of life, the pains of your mother disappearing for eight months, the pains of your parents splitting up.” The biographer Sonia Purnell says Johnson told girlfriends that his way of coping was to make himself invulnerable “so that he would never experience such pain again.”

The Brexit referendum and— three years later— his election vote are part psychological and part political drama for Boris Johnson, the stuff of a West End musical. His Friday speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street showed how quickly he can change his tune from that of the campaign to one of governance.

Speaking to those voters who opposed him and wished to remain in the EU, he said, “I want you to know that we in this One Nation Conservative government will never ignore your good and positive feelings – of warmth and sympathy toward the other nations of Europe.”

He went further.

“As we work together with the EU as friends and sovereign equals in tackling climate change and terrorism, in building academic and scientific cooperation, redoubling our trading relationship…,” he said, “I urge everyone to find closure and let the healing begin.”

If the U.K.’s economy emerges as robust and healthy, other European countries might wonder about the value of staying in.

That will be easier said than done as Johnson will now have to decide what kind of U.K. he wishes to build – one more akin to its neighbors in the EU or one more resembling a low-tax, deregulated Singapore-on-Thames.

“Brexit will formally happen next month, to much fanfare,” writes the Economist, “but the hardest arguments, about whether to forgo market access for the ability to deregulate, have not begun. Mr. Johnson will either have to face down his own Brexit ultras or hammer the economy with a minimal EU deal.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, enamored by his colleague’s intellect and linguistic skill, has called Boris Johnson “a leader with genuine strategic vision” who should be taken seriously. This week he extended an olive branch while in Brussels, telling “British friends and allies something very simple: by this general election, you confirmed the choice made more than three years ago, but you are not leaving Europe.”

On the other hand, he has warned, the best way to reach the most ambitious trade agreement with the EU would be if the U.K. essentially says “we don’t want to change very much.”

So, the drama will continue. If the U.K.’s economy emerges as robust and healthy, other European countries might wonder about the value of staying in. If Johnson defines his country as too close to the European Union, irrespective of economic logic, his base may well ask what the past three years’ drama has achieved other than serving Johnson’s own political ambitions.

It’s time to raise the curtain on the next act.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.



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Brexit deal will be a ‘good thing for the UK economy,’ US Treasury Secretary says

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Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin

SAUL LOEB | AFP | Getty Images

Finally completing the Brexit divorce deal between the EU and the U.K. will provide much needed stability for the British economy, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC Saturday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a general election with a thumping majority this week and looks set to complete the first stage of Brexit at the end of January. However, three-and-a-half years of wrangling means it’s begins schedule and that delay has hurt business sentiment and investments.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Doha Forum, Mnuchin said he expects Johnson will now get his deal on Brexit done with his commanding majority in the House of Commons and said the two sides were “absolutely” moving toward trade discussions.

“My expectation is that the prime minister will now get his deal on Brexit done. Which I think is a good thing for the U.K. economy. The U.K. just needs stability on this issue,” he said.

“I’ve been hearing for too long ‘they’re in, they’re out, they’re in, they’re out’ and we’ll begin trading discussions with them. We’re very much looking forward that trading relationship,” he added.

Johnson’s Conservatives now have 365 parliamentary seats, a majority of 80 in the House of Commons. The result, which proved even more decisive than pollsters had forecast, follows a bitterly-fought and divisive election campaign.

In a tweet published Friday morning, President Donald Trump offered his congratulations to the newly-elected prime minister, describing the better-than-expected result for his friend as a “great win.”

“Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new trade deal after Brexit,” Trump said. “This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!”

—CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this article.

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‘Everybody’s suffering’ in the Gulf because of Qatar blockade: Eni CEO

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Filippo Monteforte | AFP | Getty Images

The CEO of Italian oil and gas firm Eni has backed a return to diplomatic ties between Qatar and its powerful neighbors, telling CNBC that a removal of a blockade against the country would be “good for everybody.”

“I think it would make life easier to everybody. When there is communication, when there is good relationships it’s good,” Claudio Descalzi told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble during the Doha forum in Qatar.

“We have, already, a lot of issues, trouble in the world to look for … everybody’s suffering in the area because of this situation,” he said, adding that “peace would be good for everybody.”

Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt imposed an economic and diplomatic blockade on the small Arab state in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar vehemently denies the accusations.

The blockade has impacted air travel, shipping and trade routes and media, among other sectors. However, there are now early signs that relations might be improving. Speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said there has been “small progress” in resolving the 2-1/2 year dispute.

—CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to his article.

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