Despite a tumultuous time, Huawei execs say everything is well at company

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Huawei, a company that is weathering a ban on buying critical U.S-made components and services, said that despite all this, it’s business as usual and nothing has changed in terms of its brand, strategy, or device portfolio. Speaking to a select group of journalists including Digital Trends, Huawei President of the Consumer Business Group in Europe, Walter Ji, said the company remains “in a very strong situation; a growing situation.”

On the other side of Ji’s calm and controlled response to questions is Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, who has a slightly different approach — one that’s more forceful and zealous. Combine them together, and you get a clearer picture of what’s happening inside Huawei during this complicated and challenging time.

Business as usual

Walter Ji, who said Huawei is facing challenges now as it has done in previous years, gave his message clearly:

“We can’t close our eyes,” he said. “There is some impact, but our reputation has not been damaged. We remain strong, and there will be growth this year. We plan as we planned.”

Not only will there be no change in strategy, but he was adamant no price drops on Huawei phones are coming. Such a move would lower confidence, which to Huawei at the moment is unthinkable. Huawei’s commitment to Android for existing phones will drive sales, not aggressive pricing, he said.

He spoke about the impending launch of a large summer advertising campaign for the P30 series in the U.K., and how it shows strong investment, and commitment to consumers. He provided an update on the 5G Mate 20 X, which is in the final phase of testing and will launch in the near future, after being put on hold when networks launched 5G in the U.K.. There is still no exact date or news on which network it will arrive on, but summertime is to be expected.

Listening to Ji’s calm and controlled manner, it’s easy to believe all is well at Huawei.

Consumer confidence

During the interview with Ji, there was an oft-repeated message: “In our commitment to consumers, nothing has changed.”

He said Huawei is 100% behind those that have purchased, or will purchase its devices.

“We can’t predict what will happen in the future, regarding apps and app store, and the operating system.”

“We put consumers as our first priority,” he said, and added that inside the company, even during this difficult period, “All the 180,000 employees work harder, instead of panicking, to support our consumers even better.”

The air of confidence ran through talk of brand recognition too, which he claimed was higher than ever before in the U.K., and many countries are seeing an increase in sales. No figures were provided, but he said in the past 10 days, some countries have seen an increase up to the same level or a higher level than before May.

Even those people who were concerned are calmer once they had been provided with the facts, he said, referring to a recently-launched website with clarification on the current situation with Android updates. But while this is relevant for the current moment and for current devices, Ji was able to clarify how things will change past the August 19 cut off.

“We can’t predict what will happen in the future, regarding apps and app store, and the operating system,” Ji said.

While a plan B exists — by which he means Huawei’s own operating system, known as HongMeng — it’ll only be used in a situation where the company has no choice. Even on the back of this statement, he confidently stated: “We are strongly committed to remain in the Android ecosystem.”

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The interview took place immediately after U.S. President Donald Trump spoke about partially lifting the ban on U.S. companies doing business with Huawei. This came as a surprise to Huawei, and it’s still waiting for official confirmation on what this will ultimately mean.

“We will maintain our strong presence,” Ji said, when talking about future devices. “Everything is well. We believe nothing will change.”

Founder takes an even stronger stance

Ji’s words are reminiscent of those made by Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei in a variety of interviews recently. Huawei is Huawei, and is not easily shaken. Except when reading back over Ren’s words, there is a tougher and more headstrong tone, even more evidence of personal and company solidarity, and some carefully controlled but clearly vexed phrases that juxtapose the public face given during our interview.

Examples?

“I would never go to Australia [which sided with the U.S. on deciding not to use Huawei’s 5G equipment] or America again, even if they asked. We don’t want to force ourselves on a country that says it doesn’t want us,” Ren told Business Insider shortly after the ban was implemented.

“It will be a huge loss for U.S. companies if they miss out on the Chinese market, which serves 1.3 billion people.”

To Bloomberg, he was equally staunch: “The U.S. has never bought products from us, so how can they negotiate with us? Even if the U.S. wants to buy our products in the future, I may not sell to them. There’s no need for a negotiation.”

When the 90-day reprieve came into effect, Ren was asked by the South China Morning Post how long the crisis would last for Huawei in relation to the U.S. companies it works with, to which he responded, “Blame should be directed at U.S. politicians, not companies.”

Speaking to CNN, Ren built on this statement by stating the ban was the U.S.’s loss, not Huawei’s: “Disrupting the natural flow of technology from the U.S. to China will only cause losses to U.S. companies. It will be a huge loss for U.S. companies if they miss out on the Chinese market, which serves 1.3 billion people.”

In each interview, when the question over alleged security threats against the U.S. by Huawei was raised, Ren was unshakeable. “I would never accept any requests to install backdoors. Over the past three decades, we have never received such requests. I can make it clear today that if we receive such requests in the future, we will categorically refuse them,” he told CNN.

Pride before a fall?

What choice does Huawei have, other than to assertively push forward in this turbulent time? The confidence with which both Walter Ji and Ren Zhengfei display is the only option, but it’s clear when hearing them speak, or examining interviews, it’s made not only with the guts to back it up, but also the technical ability and resources to do so. With the lure of easier to obtain licences now being dangled in front of companies wanting to work with Huawei, the confidence and defiance against unproven accusations may pay off too.

The second half of 2019 will be fascinating, with both the foldable Mate X and the Mate 30 series in the pipeline. If the current supply situation is resolved in a timely manner, without Huawei having to alter timelines or plans as it says, these exciting devices could have the right mix of desirable tech and triumph-over-adversity backstory to rocket Huawei to even greater heights.

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