Country Director, Huawei Consumer Business Group, Malaysia
True to his Chinaman roots, country director for Huawei’s consumer business group, Gary Xu, has business built into his DNA. Deborah Joy Peter dials in for a chat with the Malaysian-based head, to talk tech and discuss the brand’s direction.
Slightly over a decade ago, sometime in 2004, China-based multi-national networking and telecommunications equipment and services behemoth, Huawei Technologies, braved the unknown when it went ahead and appointed Nanjing-hailing Gary Xu to oversee global sales of the brand’s niche offerings across multiple regions. Fast-forward to 2014, the decision has proven to be one of the most prudent hires in the history of the company by far. Fresh out of Shanghai at the time, the only tools under his belt were two years’ worth of field experience and a glorified degree from the prestigious Tongji University.
However, a marketing maverick in his own right, the Jiangsu native although positioned at the peak of his youth, did nothing to shy away from the demands attached to such a commanding title. Instead, in an effort to showcase the full effect of the stock from which he was bred, he took the bull by the horns, only to trot far and wide, to pave the way for a name which would go on to become a world-renowned trademark across the smartphone arena. Today, he remains seated at the helm of the mobile giant’s Malaysian operations as country director of Huawei’s consumer business group.
A corporate-inspired commission afforded upon request by the man himself, the aforementioned re-assignment marks Xu’s second call of duty to the bustling yet exotic industrial district of Kuala Lumpur. Part of a dedicated South Pacific tour to manage sales for the home devices segment worldwide, his initial stint served back in 2007, albeit brief, rendered him an instant fan of the urban scape’s beyond-touristic trappings. Back then, Malaysia hadn’t yet become part of China’s open retail market but he made that happen. Hence, the enthusiastic envoy’s desire to return in 2013 to continue what he had started six years prior.
Essentially, what could have alternatively played out as a maiden European (Germany) or North American (USA) expedition, ended up being a deliberate but well thought-out re-journey instead, to the tropics. In his own words, he says while reminiscent of his previous visit, “It is possible that my comeback is skewed towards personal reasons. Admittedly, I understand the market, know the country well, appreciate Malaysia’s immensely international business potential, and fancy her vast education opportunities as well as multi-lingual (specifically English and Chinese) landscape for my son.”
Elaborating further, he notes: “Had it been Europe, it would’ve taken the family much longer to adapt. Other options were available to me but we really like it here; a nation with mixed cultures, fantastic food, and heart-warming weather.” Incidentally, throughout his tenure with the company, the duly driven trend-setter has clocked time not just in Asia—to include China, Malaysia, and Singapore before spending two years in Mumbai promoting various Huawei products under the branding of Tata Indicom and subsequently, Vodafone—but also the Middle East where he led business dealings out of Bahrain, the birthplace of his now four-year-old boy.
The core functions of Xu’s current capacity dictate that the mobile marketer engage in the strengthening of Huawei’s products and branding in a manner which translates to support of its recent re-alignment from a business-to-business to business-to-consumer focus. The said transition is indicative of a redefinition of the manufacturer’s long-term strategic goals. “Huawei is a technology-based company specialised in networking but since three years ago, we’ve started sinking our teeth into the consumer market. Although we’ve been involved with consumer devices for more than a decade now, we have begun actively beefing up our B2C segment.”
Since its inception in 1988, Huawei has over a 26-year period, expanded its offerings so that its three main extensions encompass networking, enterprise, and consumer. While networking is still the brand’s leading channel, the need arose to develop technology which was compatible with the products it rolled out. “As such, we improved our business model in 2011 to include the open market strategy and began leveraging our own branding. With the advent of the smartphone, the move in this direction hasn’t been in vain. Advancements in technology and economic growth have contributed to our success.”
Mover and shaker
Literally speaking, ‘success’ is an over-simplification of what the multi-billion dollar empire truly represents. Xu recalls how founder Ren Zhengfei started the company with only 20,000 RMB back in the day. Presently, Huawei not only enjoys a global revenue share in the region of USD 39.2 billion but also a global market share of 6.9 per cent and 5.2 per cent in Malaysia, making it the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, just behind Samsung and Apple. Ranked 94th, the Chinese brand is one of five new entrants to make it into Interbrand’s Best Global Brands ranking this year.
Meanwhile, 65 per cent of its revenue comes from outside of China while its earnings continue to climb both domestically and across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. At the Malaysian level, Huawei went from 11 to 13 new smartphone models since 2013 and from zero Huawei-branded store identity outlets two years ago to a staggering 72 retail shops and 400 device touch-points by 2014. Despite its stellar performance amidst an exceedingly competitive arena, Xu’s work isn’t yet done as his dream is to increase Huawei’s market share even further, improve on product quality, and make the brand even more ‘international’.
Speaking to the challenges which remain, he confesses: “Even with these milestones, the need to explain how Huawei is different still persists. Although we have achieved widespread acclaim, in people’s minds, we are still Chinese. Consumer confidence, brand value, and media exposure must be enhanced if we are to showcase that our product is good. Technology-wise, Huawei is the best. Therefore, driving awareness is pivotal to ensure longevity.” To achieve all of the above, the technology provider plans on leveraging its speciality branches and using fully-integrated marketing campaigns to refine product introduction in the marketplace.
Evidently, he has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, he is one to welcome a good challenge and thrive in an ever-evolving and fast-paced environment. For exactly this reason, the larger popularity of Western brands does little to rattle his cage. The fact that all phones are manufactured in its backyard—that is China—has caused Huawei to subscribe to even more stringent protocols where its offerings are concerned, giving the brand an edge when it comes to quality control and assurance. That coupled with its extensive 4G-patented capabilities (dual SIM being one) and latest Huawei Mate 7 invention, places the juggernaut at the forefront of this added advantage.
So how does this one gung-ho gentleman who is the Gary Xu whom the world has come to know, get it all done with precision intact and still manage to retain his very distinct sense of humour? It’s simple; he is in every sense of the word, ‘married’ to his job and quite literally in more ways than one. He is wedded to the once-upon-a-time secretary of his superior whom he met at Huawei in 2006, dated discreetly, and walked down the aisle with two years later.
But much has changed on that front, because six years in and one child later, her title has been upgraded from colleague to boss—not an unnatural progression for most wives. “I like to joke that at Huawei, I have the wife, the fun, the car, the money, and the house,” Xu kids without holding back tiny laughter. Interestingly enough, although the missus had resigned from the company directly after the awesome-twosome tied the knot, in 2010 she re-joined her husband as his leading lady to grow the business in India and the Middle East.
Following the birth of their son in Bahrain, the couple returned to China to prepare their teeny tot for kindergarten. Says the industrial mogul to Essenze when queried on his secret to triumph: “My family always comes first and to me, to flourish is to live by honesty, integrity, and sincerity. Treating people with respect is something I take seriously as I expect the same from others.” Plainly, being family-man and fierce frontrunner is how Xu stays productive.