SHENZHEN, China (AP) – For decades, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei stayed out of sight when his company became the largest network equipment manufacturer for telephone companies and overtook Apple as the No. 2 smartphone brand.
Ren now casts the anonymity that Huawei Technologies Ltd. mobilizes against the latest threat to success: US sanctions and warnings that there is a security risk.
The billionaire entrepreneur embraced the Trump administration's fight with China over technology is a 75-year-old former army engineer who worked out of childhood poverty. He has survived competition that drove Western rivals out of the market, brushing with financial disaster and job stress so seriously that he considered suicide.
He sees American pressure as just the latest in a series of tests that have made him and the company difficult.
"For three decades, Huawei has suffered and no joy," Ren said in an interview. "The pain of each episode is different."
There is a personal dimension to the latest episode: Ren's daughter, Huawei's finance chief, was arrested in Canada on charges in the United States that she helped violate sanctions on Iran.
Ren and his company have already spent nearly a decade fighting American accusations that the company could make it easier for Chinese spying. The Trump administration increased the pressure this year by introducing curbs on US technology sales to Huawei and urging European and other allies to fire the company as they prepare to roll out the next generation telecommunications network.
The escalating clash with Washington has transformed Ren from an admired but rarely seen businessman worth an estimated $ 3 billion into one of China's most prominent figures.
He belongs to the generation of founders who founded China's first private companies of the 1
Despite his success, Ren speaks like a struggling rookie, and is worried that employees may be too comfortable.  He writes letters urging employees to "prepare for the worst," said Nicole Peng of Canalys, an industrial research firm.
"He's still pretty important in dictating that urgency," Peng said. "He talks about survival all the time: Make sure you survive."
Tian Tao, co-author of "The Huawei Story," says Huawie's corporate culture stems from Pure Growth in Guizhou, one of China's poorest regions. [19659002RenbleExcessiveSchoolTeacherHansaatJubarngaandmonthsalaryof40yuan($6)Forhehansecriticizedandcontinuedatthetimeofperitienkefe
When Ren was a teenager, the governing party became a nightmare in the Great Leap Forward, a catastrophe for a disaster. At least 30 million people died in the famine that followed in 1959-61.
Ren's mother stated that no one would die and split each meal into nine portions, one for each family member, Tian said.
“All nine people survived, Sa Tian. "His mother's & # 39; meal system & # 39; had a big impact on him."
After that ethos, Huawei says it is owned by Chinese nationals, which makes up half the workforce of 180,000. Ren says the company has no external owners, government or private.
Huawei states that Ren's ownership has dropped to 1.14% as more shares were distributed to employees. The Hurun report, which follows China's prosperity, says his net worth is still $ 3 billion, up 25% from 2018.
Ren credits his success with attention to detail, not his upbringing. He said if he hadn't gone to university, he could have been a master pig breeder or run a noodle factory.
"Don't think that when I was a kid, I had a grand ideal. When I was young, my ambition was to have more steamed bowls because we didn't have enough, "Ren said.
" Poverty did not give me the elements to succeed, "he said." This was not inevitable. " A DIFFICULT TIME
After studying engineering, Ren joined the Army in the 1960s and was sent to the northeast to build a textile factory, sleeping outdoors in as cold as -28 ° C.
Ren tells that he was lucky in the mid-1970s when Chinese leaders wanted to revive technology development after the ultra-radical cultural revolution, and built a measurement tool based on a description of a technician who saw a similar unit abroad.
"The country was looking for cases for to show science and technology that were useful, and my gizmo was exaggerated into a great invention, "said Ren.
He founded Huawei in 1987 after his military post was eliminated, putting him on an entrepreneurial path he hadn't wanted. sold the im ported telecommunications equipment when it faced the first crisis: the supplier was acquired by a competitor. Huawei started working on developing its own products.
Huawei has one of the world's largest research budgets for companies, saying this year's spending will increase 20% to $ 17 billion.
This has helped limit the effect of losing access to American components and technology. Business executives say they are removing U.S.-made parts from products, but expect smartphone sales to suffer if the company loses access to Google's maps and other services.
Ren regretted going into telecom after seeing how brutal the competition was, but he could not afford to start over after using the family savings to start the company.
He says he has been trying to secure Huawi's long-term survival through a shared decision-making system, in which a three-member team makes six-month elections as chairman.
Still, he earned a reputation as a powerful, even autocratic decision maker. This was highlighted by an internal battle in 2000 that almost tore the company apart.
"Today's crisis is a tenth or 1% of the pressure at that time," Ren said.
Others wanted Huawei to invest in personal handy phone service, or PHS, which caught on as a reasonable alternative to mobile phones. Ren dismissed it as a distraction from a larger goal of developing third-generation mobile phone technology.
Ren received reports almost daily from executives who urged him to support PHS when bills for 3G development were stacked up. It was expected that regulators would approve 3G as early as 2003. Huawei poured 6 billion yuan ($ 750 million) into it before the first Chinese licenses were issued in 2009.
"Every time I saw a report, I suffered pain," Just so. "Maybe my depression got worse then."
Tian, his cinema, said that Huawei employees told him that Ren, unable to sleep, would call and worry aloud to pay a monthly salary bill of 300 million yuan ($ 50 million).  "When Ren Zhengfei spoke to staff six to seven years ago, he revealed a secret: He had suicidal thoughts several times," said Tian, a Huawei advisor and co-director of the Ruihua Innovation Research Institute at Zhejiang University.  MOVED IN SPOTLIGHT
Employees used to joke that Huawei was the largest company nobody has ever heard of.
Ren did not give his first press interview until 2013, a year after the company became a consumer brand by launching the first smartphone.
In 2016, he became a sensation on social media as a picture circulated showing him waiting for a taxi at Shanghai Airport, unknown by other travelers. Comments on the Web expressed admiration that he avoided private jets and other wealth.
At a time when most Chinese business executives are long retired, Ren assumed a new role as Huawi's public face following Meng's December 2018 arrest in Vancouver. Huawei launched a charm offensive aimed at debasing Western suspicion.
Since January, Ren has provided interviews lasting up to two hours to journalists and television crews who go to Shenzhen, a former fishing village next to Hong Kong that has grown into a city of 15 million people and a Chinese technology center. Huawie's neighbors include Foxconn, which collects Apple's iPhones, and Tencent, operator of the popular WeChat social media service.
Ren is known for talking so obscurely that employees said they used to limit his contact with customers. But in public he is even, even brilliant.
Despite his daughter's arrest, he expresses admiration for American society. He avoids criticizing Washington, saying he does not want Beijing to retaliate for US sanctions.
A reigning party member, Ren tried to harm security concerns by promising in January that he would defy official demands to reveal the secrets of foreign customers.  Huawei, along with Nokia Corp. and LM Ericsson, a leader in 5G. It is intended to support self-driving cars and other futuristic applications. But the increased reach makes 5G politically sensitive.
FUTURE FOR THE FUTURE
Ren is still the CEO, but has resigned from the day-to-day management. He says he has no plans to retire because his only hobby is work. He promotes the company's management culture and talks about problems with employees who are invited into his office for tea.
Ren has put an unusually strong emphasis on making Huawei self-help and making its own technology, Peng said. She said it set it apart from companies such as Lenovo, the Chinese computer and smartphone manufacturer, which use more outside vendors.
The company has released a smartphone operating system that can replace Google's Android if needed. It makes its own processor chips, but still relies on US advanced product suppliers.
"They do things from scratch," Peng said. "I think this is the influence of the founder."
Ren rejects suggestion Huawei could reduce Western security fears by selling shares to the public and joining a stock exchange.
"There are few examples of public companies that have grown big and strong. Capital has to be greedy," he said. "It is because we are a private company that we have remained very committed to our long-term ideals."  He acknowledges that the daughter's arrest is far from the first time his family sacrificed for Huawei.
Ren then said Meng, who uses the mother's last name, and his other daughter and son were children, he was in the army and away from home 11 months in When he started Huawei, he worked 16 hours.
"I think my relationship with them was not very close, especially with my youngest daughter. As a father, I feel indebted to them," Ren said. I, after I step down, try my best to compensate. "