Wolf culture – how Huawei staged a military dictatorship in European offices

Wolf culture - how Huawei staged a military dictatorship in European offices

Yesterday, Netzpolitik  posted a big piece on how Chinese tech giant Huawei is interfering with the privacy of its European employees. The article was produced in collaboration with several other publications based on investigations and interviews with former employees of the corporation.

As befits a good story in the setting of cyberpunk, and it is in this reality that we live, even if so far without flying cars, Huawei is taking all measures to hide the real state of affairs. Because despite the slogan “We are a top employer”, the working atmosphere in the company is not even nearly as friendly as the tech giant portrays. 

We have collected the most important things about working in the European offices of Huawei. You can read the original in English at the link above.

Wolf culture - how Huawei staged a military dictatorship in European offices

General situation in Huawei:

  • Reporters spoke with former Huawei employees from several countries
  • Sources worked in different departments and subsidiaries
  • Unlike the public image of modern management, Huawei is actually squeezing all the juice out of its employees.
  • Former employees talk about toxic corporate culture supported by management
  • Those who “play” by the rules receive financial bonuses
  • Those who refuse to devote their lives to the corporate monster are discriminated against and fired

Wolf culture:

  • Huawei maintains an almost military order – the company’s founder Ren Zhenfei loves military metaphors and calls his leadership style “wolf culture”
  • Huawei employees don’t have the same opportunities
  • There are two metaphorical levels in a company: top and bottom
  • If the origin is not Chinese, then you cannot go further than the lower level, even if formally the position in the company is high
  • The upper level is reserved for Chinese expats who are dispatched by the head office worldwide
  • One former employee said 99.9% of top executives are Chinese
  • 17 of the 17 Huawei directors are Chinese
  • The local top positions held by Europeans are nothing more than a show, because a Chinese is always behind these leaders
  • Huawei officials deny the data, saying only 59% of executives are from China
  • Huawei officials admit they are using a two-headed leadership model
  • Local managers deal with local clients, develop the market and comply with laws
  • Chinese managers act as a layer between local and headquarters in China
Wolf culture - how Huawei staged a military dictatorship in European offices

“Embassy” of China:

  • Employees without Chinese roots have less access to information and are excluded from discussing internal decisions
  • At Huawei’s Düsseldorf office, there is a strong segregation between Chinese and non-Chinese, both at work and outside.
  • European employees hardly know what is happening in the company 
  • Only if you agree to go to the bar after work, you can find out what kind of business inside 
  • Many Europeans do not want to interfere and prefer to go home immediately.
  • In their free time, employees with Chinese roots are brought together by representatives of Huawei, the company claims that all joint activities are the initiative of employees themselves and their colleagues

Dominance of “sea turtles”:

  • Huawei sends young Chinese to international offices year after year
  • These employees are called “sea turtles”
  • These are mostly young men with good education.
  • And these “turtles” dominate the hierarchy of Huawei
  • One such Chinese says Huawei shipped it to Switzerland five years ago. He fell in love with a girl, she became pregnant. The Chinese man was hiding the situation, but the boss still found out and asked him if he was planning to get married. It was in 2018
  • The company tried to transfer this guy from Switzerland, but he resisted. Then they began to threaten him with dismissal. He made a secret recording of a conversation with the personnel department. In the video, the employee directly says that his wife will give birth and he wants to stay in Switzerland, the personnel department insisted on the transfer
  • The company argued that it has the right to decide where the person will work and the employee should obey 
  • In 2019, a young Chinese resigned from Huawei
  • Employees who receive EU residence permits, or those whose wives / husbands are EU citizens, must leave Europe as soon as possible. If they do not obey, they are fired.
  • Huawei has confirmed that in general, internal regulations do exist, but the company does not interfere with the privacy of employees
  • Expats themselves agree to the conditions of work in a foreign office, and if there is a conflict with personal life, then the employee must obey 
  • A few days later, a Huawei spokesman said that this requirement no longer exists.
Wolf culture - how Huawei staged a military dictatorship in European offices

The atmosphere of fear:

  • Conditions of quiet fear have developed at Huawei
  • Distrust of expats starts as soon as they start learning local languages
  • One employee recalls begging a colleague not to reveal that he is learning German
  • In 2018, there was a lawsuit in which Huawei tried to interfere with the family plans of an employee who wanted to have a child and she was fired on the basis of a drop in her productivity and leave for health reasons.
  • Nobody’s ‘coups’ over how Huawei pays Chinese employees
  • After working in the company for some time, employees receive certificates for the company’s shares
  • These promotions exist to motivate, as they guarantee a share of the profits
  • The offer is tempting, but only until the employee leaves or is fired – because they are forced to sell shares
  • At Huawei, most end their careers around 45
  • When longtime managers reach this age, they sell shares and retire
  • If an expat decides not to return to China, then he will not only lose his job, but also lose the “retirement” bonus
  • One employee says: Huawei is not a prison, if you want to leave, you can. But this is not a very simple solution.

Constant fresh blood:

  • The company makes every effort to prevent expats from staying in Europe
  • The company believes that if an employee marries and obtains citizenship in Europe, then he is a traitor
  • To prevent rooting, employees from China are in constant rotation
  • You cannot stay in one country for more than five years
  • Internal guidance states that if an employee does not interact with clients, then after a five-year period in one country, he is moved – regardless of any factors

Suspicions of espionage:

  • Huawei is suspected of espionage in many countries, for example, in Britain, Sweden, Australia and other countries, the sale of equipment for 5G networks is prohibited.
  • In the US, Huawei is almost completely banned
  • There is no proof yet, but no one doubts Huawei is playing a key role in China’s desire for technological sovereignty and supremacy.
  • In Germany, Huawei loves to hire telecom veterans with high salaries
  • The company especially loves the former employees of its competitors – Cisco, Ericsson, ZTE

No place for old people and fear of unions:

  • Huawei doesn’t like employees over 50
  • Out of 194 thousand employees, only 2% are over 50
  • If “old” employees refuse to leave on their own, then they are under pressure
  • There were several lawsuits and Huawei paid large compensation
  • Huawei fears employees may form alliances
  • Chinese expats refuse to support alliances for fear of their places
  • Lack of alliances allows Huawei to use pressure to set working hours or wages, and hurts competitors by not being required to accommodate employees
Wolf culture - how Huawei staged a military dictatorship in European offices

Only a victory:

  • Huawei uses every opportunity to succeed
  • This creates tremendous pressure for employees.
  • If the employee does not sell the product, then it is lowered
  • The company doesn’t care about the cause of failure – whether the employee’s fault or an external factor
  • Newcomers at the headquarters in Shenzhen have to go through a two-week “prep camp”
  • There are daily jogging at five in the morning, and the courses are literally called “brainwashing”
  • On the wall in the main office it is written: “Sacrifice is the soldier’s greatest goal. Victory is the soldier’s greatest contribution.”
  • Employees are often punished for failures, often in full view of colleagues
  • The company sometimes makes a mailing list by mail, where it highlights those who behave incorrectly and what sanctions will be imposed
  • Huawei also punishes managers for the misconduct of subordinates
  • The company often conducts “criticism and self-criticism” sessions in a communist ritual style
  • The Chinese manager was obliged to admit the mistake, and everyone present was obliged to criticize him. Shortly thereafter, the manager was sent back to China.

Working hours:

  • Work attendance often stretches beyond formal hours.
  • Working hours follow the 9-9-6 principle. This means that you need to be in the office from 9 am to 9 pm 6 days a week
  • Some negotiations were scheduled for 10 pm, and work was even on Sunday
  • At times employees slept in offices
  • The company insists that all recycling is voluntary and employees do not spend the night in the office on a regular basis.

Two-faced image and heroism :

  • Huawei on the one hand is actively showing how loyal to the Communist Party. On the other hand, it tries to create the image of an international modern company
  • But all in words, in practice, the effect is minimal
  • Huawei is not interested in changing its corporate culture in the long term
  • The company considers employees to be resources that can be recycled in the factory into the ideal soldier. One of the concepts is that heroes are not born, but become
  • In fact, Huawei creates high pressure with little support or positive reaction.
  • Managers may start yelling at Chinese employees for even minor misconduct
  • Many executives are technically savvy but lack management and leadership skills
  • In Founder’s Speech: Huawei must develop the skills of its “lead teams” by talking about the sound of artillery that employees need to hear in order to form “regional armies”
  • Even in everyday life, Huawei executives like to talk about “generals”, fictional “battles” and “front”
  • One employee calls this all “victory language” and is considered extremely irritating by many European employees.
  • At least one of the letters mentioned General Erwin Rommel, and the Chinese website had an entry in honor of Rommel, who was called the “invulnerable” commander in North Africa

Apparently, for Huawei, the war is already underway, only technology, brainwashing, interference with privacy and financial pressure are used instead of traditional weapons.

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