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Learning from Huawei


Article co-authored by David De Cremer of Cambridge Judge outlines seven leadership lessons from Ren Zhengfei, founder of Chinese communications company Huawei.

Huawei headquarters, Shenzhen, China
Huawei headquarters, Shenzhen, China
David De Cremer
Professor David De Cremer

A relentless focus on customer service combined with a controlled sense of democracy are some of the leadership lessons of Ren Zhengfei, founder of Chinese communications company Huawei, according to an article in European Business Review and its sister journal, All China Review, co-authored by David De Cremer of Cambridge Judge Business School.

The article focuses on one of the most influential thought-leaders in Asia. The article pulls into a single management model the philosophy of Zhengfei, who has built Huawei as an example to follow in China since its founding in Shenzhen in 1987.

Although not as widely known in Europe as some global companies, Huawei is the only mainland Chinese company on the Fortune Global 500 list to earn more revenue abroad (67 per cent) than in China, says the article, which is based on interviews with Ren Zhengfei and others at Huawei.

The article, co-authored by De Cremer and Tian Tao of Zhejiang University, identifies these seven leadership lessons from the Huawei founder:

  1. Help customers realise their dreams: Huawei’s mission is “to connect people via communication.”
  2. Adapt vision to challenges: Think about what kind of company you seek to achieve in 10 years and actually pursue it without the interference of external shareholders.
  3. Inspire others: In Huawei’s fifth year in operation, Zhengfei burst out of a kitchen where he was cooking for employees to proclaim: “Huawei will be a top three player in the global communications market 20 years from now.”
  4. Show humble dedication: Zhengfei is driven and ambitious, but doesn’t portray himself as a know-it-all leader.
  5. Have clear rules for decision-making: But then give freedom to execute decisions once they’re reached.
  6. Win by cooperating: One can compete without strife or acrimony.
  7. Make people’s minds your best asset: Huawei has invested heavily in a learning-driven culture.