January 15, 2014
This is my third New Year since I moved to Brussels. I have now spent more than ten years in Europe. My initial mission here in Brussels was, as my CEO says, to “build strategic partnerships with Europe’s industry and policy makers”. Three years on, I can say that despite complex policy debates and occasional quarrels, my main way to achieve this mission is to build trust.
Let me address the elephant in the room: Huawei is not trusted by default in Europe simply because it is a Chinese company – and a quite successful one until now. A Commission official once said to me: “You should understand that we [Europeans] have questions on how you grow so fast and successfully, and you shall help us to get the answers”. Of course I understand, and I am providing the answers, but the expression on peoples’ faces still seems to be saying “Oh, but I simply don’t buy it, there must be more behind it”.
In the last three years, I learned a magic word: transparency. Virtually everyone keeps telling me that Huawei needs to be transparent, even more than Western companies, to gain the same level of trust. But no one can actually tell me what kind of information is expected from Huawei, which it hasn’t already provided. I only get: “more”.
I am not complaining. I understand that the real reason is a lack of trust in Chinese companies. Until very recently, the European public sphere was quite unfamiliar with Chinese businesses. People in Europe talk at length about China’s macro economy, trade, or other geopolitical matters. But few are versed in the micro levels of the Chinese economy: in other words, individual companies. In 2011, a public opinion survey conducted by Huawei revealed that many Europeans have difficulties in naming any other Chinese company! European citizens’ perceptions of Chinese companies tend to be uniform, often imagined as a small number of state-owned enterprises, and are usually similar to their perception of the country as a whole (which is another big subject to talk about). The simple fact that there are millions of huge Chinese companies is usually ignored or unknown.
On the other hand, this lack of knowledge is partly due to the fact that Chinese companies, especially private ones, are not exposing themselves enough, if at all, to European public stakeholders. Huawei is the first Chinese company, and probably still the only one, to set up a permanent office in Brussels to maintain an exchange with the European Institutions. Huawei has taken this initiative not only because it is considering a longer term perspective than the other Chinese companies, but also because its business requires these exchanges in the short run. Huawei’s relationship with clients would have been severely damaged by a lack of dialogue with public stakeholders.
The reluctance, among Chinese companies, to communicate proactively does not necessarily imply that they operate any differently than their Western peers. It is simply due to a cultural difference: do more and talk less, stay humble and never expose yourself.
The situation that Huawei is facing today will be faced by others in the future – at least we hope so, as the alternative would mean a significant decline in EU-China trade and investment. Therefore, Chinese companies should prepare themselves to invest in trust, when thinking in the long term. Let us take a look at the evolution over the last ten years: the EU has become one of preferred destinations for Chinese investment. If Chinese companies do not want to miss such a bright opportunity, then they need to start investing now in the lengthy process of building trust and improving their image.
Trust is built not only by talking, but also by doing what has been said, and saying what will be done. Building trust will take not one or a few Chinese companies, but a large number of them. It would be naive to try and build trust without considering the perception of the whole group, taking into account what has described by another senior Commission official as “the DNA of the country of origin”.
Europeans would do well to consider that Chinese companies are not all the same. It is always advisable to look at the facts, consider each individual case and discuss the relevant subject accordingly. There is no one-size-fits-all: generic data, broad conclusions and generalisations are ill-fitted to analysing a specific company and this approach risks creating yet more misconceptions among Europeans. To put it simply, China is too big and too complex. To deal with such complexity, a more comprehensive analysis is needed.
There is no need to emphasise the importance of trust in political and economic affairs. It is most difficult and requires a lot of time. Yet it can be achieved where both sides consistently make the effort. Ten years ago, Huawei started off in Europe with a trust deficit. By consistently creating value for its customers, it earned their trust – thanks to its technology, its capability to deploy products and services, but also thanks to its role as a strategic partner with a long term vision.
The trust that customers place in Huawei is built step by step, drawing on the companies’ successes and its gradual integration into the European business environment. This is why we at Huawei believe that building a solid foundation of trust can and will be achieved – to the benefit of all those involved in the process.
Leo Sun, President of Huawei’s European Public Affairs and Communication Office, Brussels
Leo Sun (Ao)
Since May 2011, Mr Sun has been the President of Huawei’s European Public Affairs and Communications Office in Brussels, established with a view to extending and deepening the strategic relationship between Huawei and the European ICT industry.
Mr Sun graduated in automotive and mechanical engineering from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. After working three years as Product Marketing Director in Huawei’s Guiyang Office in Guizhou Province, China, he joined Huawei’s European operations as an Engineer. He initiated the creation of Huawei Technologies France at the end of 2003 and contributed to establishing its position as an important market player. Starting off with very few staff, Huawei Technologies France has grown into a structure of around 500 employees, some 75 % of which are local staff. Mr Sun became its Managing Director in 2007.