Chinese firm Huawei eyes U.S. talent

07/07/11

Permalink 02:14:11 am, by dacare, 836 words, 1361 views   English (US)
Categories: Technical, IT Recruiting, HR News Express

Chinese firm Huawei eyes U.S. talent

SAN JOSE — The question often comes up in job interviews, says Huawei executive John Roese, who has been recruiting scores of Silicon Valley engineers and programmers to help the Chinese tech giant take on Cisco Systems and other Western rivals.

The answer, Roese says, is: "No, we don't have any relationship with the Chinese government."

But the affable head of Huawei's North American research arm says he is used to confronting the subject. In recent years, concerns about Huawei's ownership scuttled its bid for a major telecommunications contract and forced the company to back away from two acquisitions after U.S. officials objected to the deals.

Huawei is one of China's biggest multinationals, with sizable financial and engineering resources, including 18 research centers around the world. But it's counting heavily on Silicon Valley talent to develop new hardware and software for telecom networks and corporate computer systems.

In the past year, Huawei has more than doubled the staff at its Santa Clara research center, growing to 430 with 200 more hires planned in 2011.

"Santa Clara is going to be a key to our future success," said Bill Plummer, a spokesman at Huawei's North American business headquarters in Plano, Texas.

But Huawei needs to overcome concerns raised by U.S. officials and members of Congress, who have charged that the company's efforts to acquire technology or sell communications gear to U.S. carriers could pose a threat to national security.

Huawei officials deny the allegations and have launched a campaign to reassure the United States.

Earlier this year, the company published an unusual open letter, inviting the U.S. government to investigate its background. In April, for the first time, Huawei published the names and photos of its corporate directors in its annual report — a standard practice for Western corporations.

"If we don't tell you who's running the company, then we're not being transparent. So we're now being very aggressive about that," said Roese. "We're starting a bit late. We were kind of an enigma to some."

Three years ago, Huawei was forced to withdraw a bid to invest in 3Com, the networking company later acquired by Hewlett-Packard, after U.S. officials raised concerns the deal would allow Chinese access to 3Com's technology. Earlier this year, Huawei said it backed away from a deal to buy the assets of 3Leaf Systems, a Silicon Valley cloud computing firm, after an interagency federal panel again raised objections.

A spokeswoman for the government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which has members from such agencies as Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security, said the panel's proceedings are confidential.

But two U.S. senators, Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia and Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, warned in a public letter that the 3Leaf deal "could pose a serious risk" to the United States, in part because of Huawei's "well-established ties" to the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

Concerns have focused on Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei's 10 years as an army official, in a country where the military often has influence over state-run industries, and on reports that Huawei has received financial support from the Chinese government.

Huawei, which says Ren started the company four years after retiring from the army in 1983, insists the government has no ownership or role in the operation. Huawei officials have blamed competitors for stirring up protectionist sentiment.

"We recognize that because Huawei has a heritage in China and the fact that the U.S. and Chinese governments have at times had a tense relationship, we are unfortunately viewed through the prism of that relationship," Plummer said.

The company lost out on a major contract to supply gear for Sprint last year after objections were raised in Washington, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But Huawei is vying for other U.S. deals and has contracts with major telecom carriers in Europe and Canada, which have "rigorously audited" Huawei's technology, Plummer said.

At its Santa Clara campus, meanwhile, Huawei is working to develop new networking technology, as well as software to manage complex IT systems and new ways to integrate computing, networking and data storage.

Huawei is the world's second-largest supplier of networking gear for telecommunications carriers, according to the Gartner research firm. Now it wants to sell a broad range of technology to other businesses, putting it squarely in competition with Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and others.

It also wants to build systems that carriers can use to offer cloud computing services to their customers. And it's entered the consumer market with a line of smartphones and a new 7-inch Android tablet announced last month.

"We're not an established player" in those markets, Roese acknowledged. But he said that's been a selling point to recent hires, including former engineers at Sun Microsystems, Cisco and other Silicon Valley companies.

Roese describes Huawei as "a very aggressive, 100,000-person startup," with all the resources but far less bureaucracy than other tech giants. "It's a really interesting technology company," he tells job candidates, "that happens to have started in another part of the world."

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