The ultimate Battle for Triangle Hill, he has said, is to surpass American rivals. His 2012 annual letter ends with the sentence, “With lofty aspirations and esprit de corps, we are striding across the Pacific Ocean,” referring to the lyrics of a famous song about the Chinese Army crossing the Yalu River to fight the Americans and South Koreans.
He told CNBC that he liked using military terms because they were easy to understand. “When I can’t find a better term to easily describe how business works, I use military terms,” he said.
Huawei’s hard-charging corporate spirit — known as “wolf culture” to outsiders and employees and as “striving culture” to executives — can trace its roots to the party. When Huawei came under attack a decade ago after some employee suicides made headlines in China, Mr. Ren remarked, according to the book: “What’s wrong with striving? We learned this from the Communist Party. We’ll strive for the realization of communism until the end of our lives.”
Even Mr. Ren’s leadership status looks like that of Deng Xiaoping, China’s former paramount leader, who started China’s reform and opening period in the late 1970s. Deng gave up his titles in his later years — though he remained chairman of the China Bridge Association — but he held the ultimate authority in China’s decision making until his death in 1997.
Though Mr. Ren is Huawei’s chief executive, he has said he holds no decision-making power except for vetoing proposals and removing executives from their posts. Huawei’s board secretary, Jiang Xisheng, told journalists last week that Mr. Ren had limited veto power.
But within Huawei, he is clearly the paramount leader.
“One can’t use one’s veto and impeachment power too often. Once or twice a year would suffice,” he was quoted as saying in the book. “Nuclear deterrence only works when the bomb remains unexploded.”
Huawei’s pledge to remain open isn’t likely to be enough to win over those put off by its culture. To win trust in the West, Huawei may have to change its DNA.
The same goes with China. When value systems are incompatible, and the two sides see each other as existential threats, it will be hard to find solutions.