Former Samsung marketer Andrew Garrihy has said he found it "tough" to acclimatise to the way Huawei ran and how it handled marketing during his first few years at the Chinese tech giant.
Speaking at the IPA’s EffWeek conference last week, Garrihy explained, for example, how many of his colleagues own stakes in the company. (Ren Zhengfei, who founded Huawei in 1987, now owns just 1% of the company, with the rest in the hands of employees – albeit through a complex structure that has been characterised in the West as murky.)
"As a marketer, that’s tough, because everybody you speak to believes they’re the owner of the company and every employee has an opinion about what’s right," he said. "But it’s also incredibly empowering, because it’s like the world’s biggest start-up when you’re making decisions."
Being privately held also allowed the business to invest for the long term, Garrihy added.
Garrihy joined Huawei in 2016 as chief marketing officer, consumer business, in Western Europe and in July was promoted to global chief brand officer. When he first joined, he was given the brief "to nurture and grow the first global technology brand that comes from China".
Discussing the culture at Huawei, he said: "We value collective wisdom, we value collaboration, we value the collective. We don’t idolise individuals.
"As a culture, that’s amazing; as a marketer, that’s tough, because everybody has an opinion. We have a belief, actually, that if you don’t discuss, if you don’t challenge, you haven’t done your job properly, because challenge and collaboration and discussion push everything forward.
"That’s embedded in our organisational structure. We don’t have one chairman; we have three chairmen and they rotate out of the chair every six months – our founder instituted this to keep the leader fresh."
Huawei has had a tumultuous year; in December 2018 Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer and daughter of Ren, was arrested in Canada on allegations of fraud, connected to the company's suspected violation of US sanctions imposed on Iran. She is awaiting a hearing for extradition to the US.
Meanwhile, Huawei has been added to a US blacklist that stops it from using Google services on its phones – although it can continue to use the Android operating system, which is open source. Its Mate 30 phone launched in September without apps such as Google Maps and YouTube.
Garrihy acknowledged that the company was facing challenges, but said it was starting to recover ground that it lost in 5G infrastructure provision after Western governments became alarmed by the US’s position.
He characterised Huawei as a company that prized technical innovation and explained this had a knock-on effect on how it regarded marketing.
"Critically, we are a technology company; we invest billions in R&D and engineers are about 45% of our workforce," Garrihy said.
"That’s challenging because they want to talk about the latest cool piece of software, not brand. But R&D is what makes us special. As a marketer, you are constantly being pushed to innovate, just as much as the R&D. If marketing is not as innovative as R&D, it’s not serving a purpose.
"We have a rapid 'test and learn' environment – it took me a long time to get used to this. I was brought up to spend time on the analytics, to spend time on the strategy, to perfectly plan, scope, measure, adapt. This is much more like software development – get as good as you can, get it in market, test it, learn, adapt, do it again… rapid test and learn."