SHENZHEN, China (AP) – For decades, Huawei's founder stayed out of sight as it grew to become the largest manufacturer of networking equipment for telephone companies, passing Apple as the No. 2 smartphone brand.
Now, Ren Zhengfei is throwing out the anonymity that China's first global tech brand is mobilizing to fight back against US sanctions and warnings, Huawei Technologies Ltd. is a security risk.
The founder at the center of the Trump administration's fight with Beijing for technology is a survivor of competition that drove Western rivals out of the market, brushing off with economic disaster and job stress so seriously that he considered suicide.
The 75-year-old former Army engineer working out of childhood poverty sees US pressure as just the latest of the tests that have hardened him and his company.
"For three decades, Huawei has suffered and no joy," Ren said in an interview. "The pain of each episode is different."
This episode has a personal dimension: Ren's daughter, Huawei's chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on charges in the United States that she helped violate sanctions against Iran.
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 from the communist era in the 1
Ren launched Huawei in 1987 after his military post was eliminated.
Huawei is a star in industries that govern the Communist Party, but a target for complaints that the plans are based on stealing or pushing foreign companies to hand over trade secrets.
Despite his success, Ren speaks like a struggling novice, and is worried that employees may be too comfortable. [19659002CreatorLettersApproachesOnly"PrepareTheWorst"saNicolePengfraCanalysisIndustryResearchCompany
As to "whether his character can help the company survive," Peng said, "I'm sure it will. It will survive. As they said, they are prepared. that there are always difficulties. "
Ren was born in 1944 and was raised by a schoolteacher who said he put seven children on a $ 6 yuan monthly salary.
When Ren was a teenager, the ruling party embarked on Great Leap Forward, a disastrous campaign to become an industrial power overnight. 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, said Tian Tao, co-author of "The Huawei History." "
" His mother's & # 39; meal system & # 39; had a huge impact on him, "Tian said.
Following this ethos, Huawei says it is owned by Chinese nationals making up half the workforce of 180,000. Pure ownership has dropped to 1.14% as more shares are shared
Ren joined the Army in the 1960s and was sent to the northeast to build a textile factory, saying he slept outdoors in weather as cold as -28 C (-18 F) and eating noodles and pickled radishes.
Ren says he has tried to secure Huawi's long-term survival through a system of shared decision-making, and is still known as a powerful, even autocratic decision maker.
It was highlighted by a fight in 2000 about whether he should develop the personal, practical phone system, which was used as a low-cost alternative to mobile service. Ren dismissed PHS as a distraction from working with next-generation mobile technology that promised to be cheaper and more reliable.  Ren said he resisted calls to support PHS as bills for 3G development rose to 6 billion yuan ($ 750 million dollars). 19659002] "Today's crisis is a tenth or 1% of the pressure at that time," Ren said.
Tian, his cinema, said that Huawei employees told him that Ren, unable to sleep, would call and worry deeply about how to pay a monthly salary bill of 300 million yuan ($ 50 million.)  "When Ren Zhengfei spoke to employees 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.
Following his daughter's arrest in Vancouver in December 2018, Huawei launched a charm offensive aimed at designing Western suspicions that the company was enabling Chinese spying.
Ren provides interviews lasting up to two hours to reporters and TV crews who go to Shenzhen, a former fishing village near Hong Kong that is now a technology center of 15 million people.
Ren, a ruling party member, tried to harm security concerns by promising in January that he would defy any official demands to reveal the secrets of foreign customers.
Huawei, together with Nokia Corp. and LM Ericsson, a leader in the fifth generation of telecommunications technology. It is intended to upgrade and expand networks to support self-driving cars and other futuristic applications. But the increased reach makes 5G politically sensitive.
The company's US market disappeared in 2012 after a congressional panel declared Huawei a security risk.
Despite the threefold sales as Huawei entered Europe, Asia and Africa. Last year, sales rose nearly 20 percent to $ 105 billion.
U.S. Export controls, if enforced, will interfere with Huawei's access to processor chips and other technology. The smartphones will lose Google maps and other services, making it difficult to compete.
To limit that impact, Ren has emphasized making Huawei a self-reliant technology maker. This year's research spending is due 20% to $ 17 billion.
The company has released a smartphone operating system that can replace Google's Android if needed. It makes some of its own processor chips, but needs US vendors for advanced products.
"They do things from scratch," Peng said. "I think this is the influence of the founder."