There is more than one way to lead in the smartphone industry, and China is at work on all of them.
No longer content to copy foreign products. China is developing brands to compete with Apple and Samsung. Xiaomi is known as its answer to Apple, and Huawei and ZTE, the equipment companies, have moved into handsets.
By buying Siemens out of their telecommunications network joint venture, Nokia has strengthened the part of its business that is doing relatively well. But it does little to stop the rise of China within the industry.
The telecoms network industry is under extreme margin pressure and Huawei and ZTE, the two Chinese competitors, continue to expand their share. Meanwhile, both Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent have struggled.
US national security concerns apart, China’s Huawei has one of the strangest governance structures of any multinational company: a “panel” of three chief executives each of whom rotates into the top executive role every six months.
On the issue of Huawei’s links with the Chinese military, the telecommunications equipment company has proved the equal of any western counterpart when it comes to using spin-doctors to push out a strong and consistent message that it has been maligned. But when it comes to the rotating CEOs, its founder, Ren Zhengfei (who is one of the trio), is remarkably frank that the arrangement is a bold experiment. “Even if we fail, we will not regret our choice because we have blazed a new trail,” he said in the most recent annual report.
I’m fascinated by Huawei Technologies: it encapsulates all the challenges that fast-growing Chinese companies face – from governance to branding – and then some.
It’s already the world’s second largest manufacturer of mobile network equipment by revenue, but Huawei’s latest big bet is to be one of the world’s top three mobile handset brands by 2015. Wan Biao, chief executive of Huawei’s device unit, set the target at Wednesday’s launch of its cloud-computing smartphone, the “Vision”, based on Google’s Android operating system.