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
Zilingo says it will help train women entrepreneurs in Indonesia
The logo of Zilingo is displayed on a window at the company’s office in Singapore.
Ore Huiying | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Southeast Asian fashion start-up Zilingo on Wednesday said it is launching a program in Indonesia, where it will provide microloans, vocational training and resources for women to run their own garment manufacturing businesses.
Those micro-businesses would receive and fulfill small-scale apparel orders from fashion brands on Zilingo’s network. For its part, Zilingo will make money by taking a cut from every transaction.
Zilingo was founded in 2015 as an online marketplace where independent fashion and lifestyle retailers can sell directly to customers. Those retailers get access to suppliers from places like Bangladesh to procure their products, and Zilingo helps them with cross-border shipping, inventory management and customer service. Zilingo charges retailers commissions between 10% to 20%.
The program, called SheWorkz, is aimed at providing women with the resources and flexibility to return to the workforce, according to Zilingo CEO and co-founder Ankiti Bose.
“One of the biggest problems that we have, it’s not only a social challenge but an economic challenge in Asia, is just how many women are not in the workforce,” Bose told CNBC.
“And, there are several reasons for it — some are economic, but many are social. They’ve gotten married, they’ve had kids, they’ve fallen off the workforce.”
Women made up about 38.9% of Indonesia’s total labor force in 2018, while their participation rate was 52% compared to 82% for men, according to World Bank data.
Various studies have said having more women in the workforce can boost countries in their economic ambitions and help companies drive better profits.
The program is supported by Indonesia’s ministry of economic affairs and state-owned lenders Bank Mandiri and Bank Negara Indonesia. For the pilot project, Bose said Zilingo will start with about 300 women who used to work for the start-up’s manufacturing partners, but who eventually left the workforce. New participants will be sought out after that.
“What we’re doing is going and extending them an option to work from their homes with all the facilities provided by us,” Bose said. The goal is to increase the program’s capacity to about 5,000 women in Indonesia over the next 12 to 18 months, she added.
If the program is successful in Indonesia, then Zilingo intends to bring it to other countries like India, which has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world.
Zilingo, which launched in the United States this month, has raised more than $308 million in funds and is backed by well-known names such as Sequoia Capital and Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings.
Alibaba Group thwarts 300 million hack attempts per day
Alibaba’s company logo at its office in Hong Kong on February 22, 2012.
Aaron Tam/Stringer | Getty Images
Ma said he was “proud” that despite the tirade of subterfuge, Alipay — the group’s payments arm which reports close to 1 billion users and processes $50 billion worth of transactions per day — has yet to lose “one cent” to hackers.
“For Alibaba Group, we have over 300 million hacking attempts per day. Every day. But we deal (with) it. We don’t have even one problem,” Ma said at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore on Tuesday.
By way of contrast, embattled Chinese technology giant Huawei is subject to around 1 million daily cyberattacks, according to its security chief. Until now, other technology companies have been less forthcoming in revealing their cyber attack vulnerabilities.
Alibaba faced a sweeping cyber attack attempt in February, which threatened to compromise the accounts of 20 million users on its Taobao e-commerce site. The company said it detected the attack “in the first instance.”
Ma cited the company’s advanced tech capabilities, which he dubbed “AI: Alibaba Intelligence,” for its continued success rate, noting that machines are superior to humans in using logic to thwart malicious online behavior.
“We teach the machine all the ways people (are) cheating,” said Ma. “The machine remembers over millions of ways of cheating, so when we start the cheating, (the) machine already knows you are cheating. In this way we are protecting all the technology.”
Jack Ma (right), co-founder and former executive chair of Alibaba Group, speaks next to Steve Forbes (left), chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes media, during the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore on October 15, 2019.
Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images
To achieve that degree of accuracy, however, Ma noted the company must collect vast swathes of customer data. He argued that doing so allowed Alibaba to develop safeguards to detect bad human actors.
“Give my data to a machine,” said Ma. “I trust a machine more than (I) trust people.”
“I give my data to people, I worry about that. People say ‘ah, this is Jack Ma, I want to know about him.’ Machine(s) don’t care if you’re Jack Ma or Jack Lee. Machine cares whether you do good things or bad things.”
Ma retired from Alibaba last month, 20 years after the company’s founding. At the conference in Singapore, he was honored with the Malcolm S Forbes Lifetime Achievement Award for his “outstanding” contributions to entrepreneurship.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam annual policy address interrupted
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam leaves her annual policy address due to disruptions by pro-democracy lawmakers in the Legislative Council on October 16, 2019.
Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images
Pro-democracy lawmakers shouted at Hong Kong embattled leader Carrie Lam on the floor of the legislature as she was set to deliver her annual speech on Wednesday.
Lam’s remarks were initially suspended amid disruption. As she was set to begin her address a second time, pro-democracy lawmakers interrupted her and some even threw objects at her.
The proceedings were adjourned as the six democratic lawmakers were escorted out of the room. Lam also left the legislature’s chambers.
Lam was set to formally withdraw the extradition bill that sparked nearly five months of sometimes violent protests in the city.
She was expected to also focus on land and housing initiatives in a bid to restore confidence in the city’s future after months of anti-government protests that have crippled the city and dampened investor sentiment in the Asian financial hub.
Pro-democracy lawmakers wearing masks with the image of Chinese President Xi Jinping disrupt proceedings during the annual policy address of Carrie Lam on October 16, 2019.
Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images
The semi-autonomous city battles to overcome its greatest political turmoil since 1997, when the former British colony was handed over to China. Hong Kong now operates under the “one country, two systems” principle, in which Beijing grants Hong Kong citizens financial and legal independence from the mainland.
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