In her first public appearance since a high-profile return to China last year, Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, served as co-chair at an annual corporate presentation in Shenzhen on Monday, where she fielded questions directed towards a company in a state of prolonged transformation.
“The last time I attended a Huawei annual report press conference was four years ago,” said Meng. “The past four years have seen tremendous changes in the world and in China. In the few months after I came back, I’ve been trying to catch up.”
Huawei has found itself at the center of a closely watched international saga in recent years, as sanctions imposed by the United States have forced an internal rethink of the technology giant’s core business model. During much of this time, Meng has grappled with an extradition request leveled by officials in Washington while being held under house arrest in Vancouver, Canada, spanning from late 2018 until September of last year when a deal was finally struck.
In the face of mounting challenges, Huawei has now embarked on a shift away from its once thriving consumer electronics sector, in favor of new areas including 5G and cloud technology.
The company’s top brass appeared resolute during Monday’s event, even while unveiling a 28.6% annual decline in revenue during 2021 – its first recorded year-on-year drop. Meanwhile, the firm achieved a net profit of 113.7 billion yuan, up nearly 76% year-on-year, the result of a newfound emphasis on profitability.
That Meng could once again take center stage in person at the prominent annual event represents a point of pride for Huawei, as well as for many Chinese citizens. “Today, when I see you again, especially as many of you have made it to the site, despite the pandemic, I really feel great to have this face-to-face communication with you,” said Meng, adding, “there is no substitute for such interactions.”
As Huawei seeks to develop business operations in more stable and fertile ground, one such sector is logistics. The company aims to leverage its might in AI and automation to streamline the management of shipping hubs through a new generation of intelligent ports.
During an online event on Friday, Brian Chamberlin, Executive Advisor for Huawei’s Carrier Marking division, said: “Ports are struggling because there simply are not enough people that want to operate the cranes in ports, and I don’t blame them – it’s not a fun job. But that is changing, and it’s changing because of 5G.”
In comments to Pandaily, Chamberlin added, “We’re actually having to transform our whole industry and our whole outlook on things. Remember that Huawei in previous generations was selling directly to carriers, and was selling networks, and that was it. But now what we’re finding is that…we also have to work with the ecosystem partners.”
The sea change Huawei now operates in has opened areas of opportunity, but also potential vulnerabilities.
Huawei executives were asked on Monday about the potential international expansion of HarmonyOS, the company’s self-developed operating system. Reports have surfaced in recent days suggesting that, in the wake of Google’s halting of authorization for Russian-made devices, local mobile phone manufacturers that once depended on Android are now testing HarmonyOS.
In response to such murmurings, Huawei officials issued a flat denial. “Currently we have no plan to launch or to promote HarmonyOS for use on phones outside China,” said Guo Ping, Rotating Chairman of Huawei.
Looking ahead to the coming year, Huawei Chairman of the Board Liang Hua projected a sense of tempered optimism: “2022 may prove to be more challenging yet, but we are confident in what the future holds.”