Born on October 25, 1944 in the small, mountainous province of Guizhou, China, Ren Zhengfei is the founder and CEO of Huawei Technologies, one of the largest telecommunications and mobile telephone companies in the world.
Ren Zhengfei is a trained engineer. He graduated from the Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture of Chongqing in 1963.
This engineer followed an unusual path to launch Huawei Technologies in the late 1980s, and in a few decades became the leader of the world’s third largest telecommunications company. One of the richest men in China, Ren Zhengfei’s wealth totals $1.7 billion.
In the 60s, after he received his engineering degree, Ren Zhengfei began his career as a civil engineer. But job prospects proved precarious in a China shaken by the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. He joined the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1974 to work on a project making synthetic fiber in Liao Yang. He said no one wanted to work in this poor and remote area of central China, and the Chinese government was forced to send the army to complete this project by recruiting those who agreed to help build new plant. Thus, Ren Zhengfei found a career in the military, which he called “fortuitous.” The modest engineer found success and he rose to the rank of deputy director. As a reward, he was invited to the National Science Conference in 1978 as a delegate of the PLA and he attended the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party in 1982.
In 1983, a turning point in his engineering career forced him to shift to entrepreneurship. His entire engineering corps was disbanded by the Chinese government and he left the army after a remarkable rise. But he had only a modest pension and was forced to work for the logistics department of the Shenzhen South Sea Oil Corporation. It was a difficult transition because Ren Zhengfei did not like this new business environment.
However, Ren Zhengfei saw no shortage of possiblities and he decided in 1987 to create a business reselling electronic equipment imported into China. With little money, he “started small” by creating Huawei in Shenzhen with a few thousand euros – the registered capital of the company originally amounted to 21,000 yuan, or less than 3000 euros. Ren Zhengfei became CEO of the telecommunications business in 1988, and has since taken his position at the head of Huawei.
Ren Zhengfei has managed to build his business around the world - in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East - but he could not conquer the United States market. The National Security Agency (NSA) has opposed the establishment of business by the Chinese leader because of his military past, saying the presence of the company on its territory could pose risks of cyber-espionage by Chinese intelligence services. The NSA warned that telecommunications companies operating in the United States would lose their U.S. government contracts if they partnered with Huawei. Ren Zhengfei has always categorically refuted these remarks, denying having connections with the Chinese intelligence services. He said he never received any request to spy from the Chinese government.