Family culture and strongman Control in Huawei
Being ranked No. 1 of “most influential Chinese business leaders” by Fortune China in three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013, Zhengfei Ren, the founder, controlling shareholder and CEO of Huawei is almost regarded as hero of the company.1 He has been the man who is influencing and inspiring the whole company since it was founded in 1987. Now, Huawei is a global leading company in ICT (information and communication technology) solution with revenue in 2012 more than 35 billion dollars.2 The magic rise of Huawei is largely attributed to the family based strongman culture with strong executive force from the top and ability to make long-term planning, but, as far as I can see, will hardly ensure future success.
The inner network of relations called “organizational enthusiasm” plays an important role in Huawei’s internal management. Ren, is the one who “set fire” in the company. After serving in the PLA (Chinese Liberation Army) for several years, Ren created the Huawei Empire almost from nothing in his forties. He is described as extremely optimistic and strong. 3 As a small team with few resources, Ren’s enthusiasm and strong entrepreneurship is what kept people around him, working with him to their best. Rather than relationship between boss and staff, this, original from Chinese guanxi culture, this organizational enthusiasm is more like personal loyalty, trust and affection. Stronger than pure staff loyalty, this relationship like brotherhood and sisterhood pushed Huawei harder during its early days. As Huawei expanded rapidly, the enthusiasm was spread in a larger scale to different levels of the employees by passionate speech and slogan delivered by Ren, and also by the top to bottom passing. Ren is conveying his personal philosophy to everyone and make is become the philosophy of Huawei so that after a while, most of the employees just believe and trust whatever Ren said, willing to follow him from inside. In this way, in addition to the CEO, Ren is almost the “Godfather” of Huawei. Other than doing what they are paid, the strong relationship of network among staff and the enthusiasm for the organization and the mission make employees willing to do more.
Huawei implemented the management method of paternalism, which is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Ren serves as the most respectful seniority in Huawei. As I analyzed above, the organizational enthusiasm contribute to the guanxi like brotherhood and sisterhood in a family. Then in a traditional Chinese family, the hierarchy and respect for seniority is the important thing to manage the big family and keep everyone together. This can also be interpreted as “Yes sir culture” or “Bureaucratic culture”. In big family, the seniority is the absolute the leader and decision maker. Young people are not allowed to say no the show their special ideas. In Huawei, the superior serve as the elder in a family, leading, helping and controlling the subordinates and what the subordinates should do is to finish his part perfectly and make his superior satisfied. The best thing for this family like network is that the organization is very steady and efficient. But, Huawei is also criticized for “no respect for characteristics”4 However, unlike their fathers and mothers, the young generation in China tend to feel depressed in the paternalistic environment so that it’s difficult for Huawei to take advantage of this internal management methods when there are more and more young employees in the company with different characteristics.
With enthusiasm influence on one hand and authority management on the other hand, Ren is building a company like a traditional big family. He tries to convince all the employees that they share the common interests as well as loss. Honesty, hardworking, self-criticism and team work are considered as the core value of Huawei. Teamwork is expressed as “Cheering with wine when succeeding while...
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