Huawei Hires Foreign Executives in Global Push

11/26/13

Permalink 08:53:05 am, by dacare, 802 words, 723 views   English (US)
Categories: Living & Working in China, Technical, IT Recruiting

Huawei Hires Foreign Executives in Global Push

Huawei Technologies Co., which is struggling to break out of the mold of a Chinese company, is recruiting more Western executives and rolling out a long-term incentive program to attract foreign workers.

The moves come as the Shenzhen-based company expands aggressively overseas and tries to remake itself into a global brand. Huawei, which generates two-thirds of its revenue outside China, is now the world's second-largest supplier of telecommunications-network equipment after industry leader Ericsson. ERIC-B.SK -0.30%

Yet Huawei's senior executives are predominantly Chinese, and only about one-quarter of its 150,000 employees are non-Chinese nationals.

Huawei's fast growth in the telecom-equipment market has drawn criticism in the West.

A U.S. congressional report last year labeled the company a security threat and questioned whether it has close ties to the Chinese government. Similar concerns have been raised in Australia and the U.K. Huawei has denied the allegations.

To attract workers in India, where Huawei hires many engineers for its local research-and-development facility, the company earlier this year introduced an employee-benefit program modeled after its China share-ownership program. That program lets Chinese workers buy a stake in the company and profit when Huawei does well.

Huawei plans to roll out this benefit to other countries, said spokesman Roland Sladek. He declined to elaborate.

The move is significant because Huawei has called its Chinese share-ownership program a driver of the company's success. About 74,000 of the 110,000 Chinese nationals employed at Huawei are shareholders.

In India, Huawei employees become eligible after two years. But unlike its China program, overseas employees can't actually own a stake in the company.

Still, the program is likely to allow the company to "create a strong loyalty among the best talent" as it expands overseas, said Mr. Sladek, who joined Huawei last year from ST-Ericsson, a European joint venture of Ericsson and semiconductor-manufacturer STMicroelectronics STM +0.89% NV.

If Huawei is seen as an international firm, this could ease security concerns and give it greater access to local markets, said Sandy Shen, a Gartner Inc. research director based in Shanghai. "It's very important that they put on the face of a global company when they go into international markets."

Huawei's efforts to transform itself into a global company are becoming apparent at its Shenzhen headquarters.

Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and Westerners are among the 30,000 employees who work on the nearly square-mile campus. The campus offers Western restaurants serving steak, and an Indian and halal canteen with freshly made chapati flat breads.

CT Johnson, a 45-year-old U.S. finance expert, left Ericsson last year to be Huawei's corporate controller. Mr. Johnson said he had qualms about taking the job, questioning whether "they might be hiring me as a Western guy just for show and without real responsibility." But, he said, those concerns turned out to be unfounded as he was granted access to Huawei's financial statements and details of its operations. Mr. Johnson has since changed jobs within the company, leading a division that negotiates sales contracts with customers.Still, all of Huawei's 13 board directors are Chinese, raising questions about how much impact a handful of foreign executives will have.

Huawei has also hired a number of other high-profile Western executives to diversify its management team, including Colin Giles, a former Nokia Corp. executive from Australia, and John Suffolk, formerly the U.K. government's chief information officer.

Other Chinese technology companies are taking similar steps. Lenovo Group Ltd. 0992.HK +1.77% , which bought International Business Machines Corp.'s personal-computer business in 2005, has hired more executives and managers from Western competitors in recent years.

Lenovo overtook Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ +0.24% as the world's biggest PC maker this year.

Western executives are becoming increasingly receptive to Chinese companies, said Bhavya Sehgal, head of Asian-Pacific research for Frontier Strategy Group, as these companies expand and snap up assets around the world.

Huawei also has more opportunities to recruit executives, in part because some Western rivals have been struggling and cutting jobs, said Canalys analyst Matthew Ball.

In October, Alcatel-Lucent ALU.FR +0.77% of France said it would reduce its workforce by roughly 15%. In July, Huawei said its revenue for the first half of the year rose 11% from a year earlier to 113.8 billion yuan ($18.7 billion).

Mr. Johnson said he is adjusting to an "indirect" manner of communication at a Chinese company. In one of his first projects for Huawei, Mr. Johnson forged ahead with a new method of compiling financial reports, not understanding that colleagues' questions were really an objection.

"At Western companies, I would expect my subordinates to challenge me, in a direct but respectful way," Mr. Johnson said. "At Huawei, and I suspect in most Chinese companies, that's the same as cursing."

The project was later scrapped.

"Chinese companies are giving control, but the question is whether they give all the independence required for Western executives to be successful," said Mr. Sehgal.

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