Monday, 05 June 2017 11:44

An Australian abroad – Colin Giles, Huawei (interview)


Colin Giles is executive vice-president, Huawei Consumer Business Group. He has come a very long way from his teenage years as a CB enthusiast who decided a Bachelor of Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of Western Australia might lead him on the right path.

It did, and he became Nokia’s third Australian employee in 1992 helping to grow this fledgling Finnish phone handset brand to equal number one with Motorola with a 30% market share. From there it was a long whirlwind career with Nokia as it rapidly grew, seeing Giles move to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, and Helsinki, ending up as executive vice-president, Global Head of Sales and president, China.

To finish the story, after Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia he went to Huawei as executive vice-president, Marketing, Retail and Open Channel Development, and was poached by Lenovo to head worldwide sales of Lenovo’s Mobile Business Group and Motorola. But the lure of Huawei was too strong and in December 2015 he returned as executive vice-president of its Consumer Business Group.

What lured him back was what he describes as Huawei’s unflinching and ambitious goal to be a strong global leader in all its endeavours – the fact that a Chinese company realised that anything was possible and was up for the challenge.

“Look where we have come from and where we are going,” he said.

Huawei Colin Giles

These days his main value, apart from his hands-on leadership style, is bringing his global experience into a Chinese company. “As Huawei evolves I am more and more adding my perspective gained as an Australian who has spent 23 years living in Greater China. That experience is what Chinese companies need to be truly global,” he said.

“Sure, it helps to speak the language – it is not easy to learn, but more importantly it is in getting to know Chinese business culture that is fundamentally different to western business culture,” he said.

He explained that one of Huawei’s corporate cultures was “fèndòu”. Very loosely translated it means we were founded on the ideal that all are created equal and as self-made men, we strive and struggle for success. It is a very strong motivation and in part explains Huawei’s rapid ascent as a Global brand.

“Huawei stated in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei with just $4,000 in start-up cash, initially importing PABX phone switches, then moved into manufacturing, telecommunications networks, semiconductors (ARM foundry HiSilicon), and consumer products including mobile phones, wearables, tablets and mobile broadband,” he said.

An article on Huawei at Fortune is good reading it you want to know more about the company and its underpinnings.

“I can only speak for Consumer products but Huawei has a huge range of enterprise LAN/WAN products, cloud computing, data centre, servers, and storage, and we power many of the global carriers with wireless and fixed networks, cloud networks, and software. We work across government, telcos, transport, finance, media/entertainment, education and much more. Our 5G technology is among the best and It is part of our connected intelligent worlds strategy,” he said.

Giles was getting very enthusiastic at this point. “You don’t achieve that kind of success in a relatively short time without fèndòu and a good plan. Look at our mobile phone business. We got in by OEM manufacturing while label handsets – the way many Chinese phone makers get into the market. But we added considerable research and development and we now hold a huge number of patents that allows us to create, not copy others.

"It is only four years ago that we decided to create the Huawei handset brand and in the last couple of years, we have evolved to the third largest global smartphone supplier on the back of great products like the Mate 8, P9 and now Mate 9 and P10. We have the will and resources to be even more,” he said.

“You know every brand has to earn the right to be there. Apple and Samsung have earned that right but they have been at it a lot longer than we have. Ironically we are number one in Finland – home of Nokia. Watch this space.”

Huawei sees itself very soon passing Apple globally. “We are going to take Apple step by step, innovation by innovation,” Huawei’s consumer head, Richard Yu, told a reporter at a Munich product launch in November 2016. He later told Fortune that Huawei would pass Apple in handset volume sometime in 2018

We spoke about gaining market share and why Huawei had been successful. “Huawei has the attitude to make it happen. We now have over 100,000 “outlets” (franchise stores to corner stores) servicing China. We have a major presence in our major global markets where we are good corporate citizens and the brand stands for quality and value – you won’t find better customer service and quality in any other brand. According to China Daily we consistently rate in the top ten most influential Chinese global brands,” he said.

Huawei is among the top 10 Chinese brands set to take over US households by 2020 according to Business Insider Australia. It is a US$61 billion company, it has more than 170,000 employees, does business in more than 170 countries and shipped more than 140 million handsets in 2016. Gartner analyst CK Lu, who studies China’s smartphone makers, said, “From a global perspective, Huawei is the most successful Chinese brand.”

“Having our own silicon (chips) factory HiSilicon is a tremendous help as it allows us to innovate as well as have better control over the supply chain,” he said. Note: Samsung is the only other handset manufacturer with its own silicon foundry.

All this leads to Huawei’s ongoing strategy moving forward. “We must have a flagship handset that competes in every way in that category, not only on features and quality but also value. Part of that value will come from Huawei’s partnerships with Leica and Porsche Design as well as investment in carrier 5G networks - we feel our silicon will simply work the best,” he said.

“We also have the Honour brand – it is aimed at different markets, sometimes as a separate brand and sometimes via an e-commerce, online platform. It usually has shorter product cycles, its sales are promotion led, and it offers good features at good prices.

That is in addition to our GR5 2016 and Y511 that are popular in the mid-range and prepaid markets. The main issue to solve is to help Australian consumers realise Huawei offers exceptional quality, features, and value,” he said.

So, where to now?

“Any global company needs to digitally transform and offer superior customer experiences. Huawei is doing this and using Net Promoter Scores to monitor feedback on customer satisfaction to better respond to customer needs” he said.

And the future of mobile phones?

We are on the cusp of some big changes – not so much in the glass slab as you put it, but in the inner workings and functionality. Within the next five years:

  • AI and machine learning to make it truly a useful assistant. I think we are going to see more crowdsourcing making the local information even smarter
  • Augmented, mixed and virtual reality. I think that while VR is good for games and static experiences augmented reality will develop faster using the handset as a window to a mixed world.
  • Wearables will continue to evolve – but it is not about the form factor like a fashion smartwatch but what that can do in terms of health monitoring, IOT control, tracking etc. This category is just taking off.
  • We need to improve the battery and power experience whether through wireless charging, faster charging, or improved usage times – again having our own silicon should give us a lead there
  • Yes, you will see different type of displays

What are yout parting messages to iTWire readers?

  1. I hope that they will have a better appreciation of Huawei as a global company but equally so that Chinese manufacturing has developed significantly over the past decade and now offers quality, innovation, and technologically advanced products to the world.
  2. Australia – my home country – needs to see the greater potential for collaboration with China. It is not just about selling our primary resources and agriculture but about using our brains to work with China.
  3. Try our product – give it a good old Aussie go!

 Huawei P10 range

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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