Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei Discusses US Sanctions, Chips, and AI

Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, delivered a speech at a recent symposium where he addressed several issues, including chip supply, ChatGPT, the company’s future direction for research and development, and its employee selection systems.

In his speech, Ren revealed Huawei has replaced over 13,000 components in its products with locally-sourced alternatives and redesigned over 4,000 circuit boards over the past three years, showcasing the company’s efforts to overcome challenges imposed by the three years of US sanctions. Furthermore, he announced that Huawei will be launching its own resource planning system called MetaERP next month, and will be fully utilizing its own operating system, data system, compiler, and language.

Ren, who is 78 years old, noted that Huawei was able to successfully overcome the challenges of the past three years due to the company’s nearly 20 years of preparation in basic theory and investment of hundreds of billions of yuan in training its skilled scientists. This investment in both theoretical knowledge and personnel development has enabled Huawei to weather the difficulties presented by the recent US sanctions.

Ren addressed concerns about Huawei’s chip supply challenges. He acknowledged that there are still challenges in advanced chip manufacturing in China, and that Huawei is exploring alternative methods to make up for its current shortfall in chip capabilities. Ren went on to explain that Huawei plans to continue investing in frontier exploration in the coming years as its profits increase.

Ren also commented on ChatGPT, which has gained significant popularity. He stated that in the future, many companies will develop large language models. He emphasized the importance of paying attention to specific applications of these models, noting that sometimes the application may present a better opportunity than the model itself.

Ren expressed his belief that as society moves towards being increasingly information-based, mathematics is becoming critical as AI and algorithms are both inherently mathematical in nature. He commented, “Huawei may learn from Google’s approach to research in the future, conducting research that may not necessarily have practical applications or directly relate to Huawei’s business, but would ultimately make valuable contributions to society as a whole.” However, Ren noted that the company currently lacks the financial resources to undertake such research but hopes to invest more in scientific research as Huawei’s net profits increase in the future.

In 2019, Huawei initiated the “Genius Graduates” project, which aims to recruit top talent for the company. The project has recruited at least 20 members to date, attracting attention due to the high salaries offered to its members. One member of the project, Peng Zhihui, left Huawei at the end of 2022 to start his own robot company. Peng is also a popular content creator on the Chinese video-sharing platform Bilibili, with over 2.2 million followers.

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Ren commented on Peng’s departure, stating that “Huawei cannot monopolize talent” and that it is beneficial for a country to make the best use of the talents of its citizens, whether it means starting their own business or joining other companies. He also reflected on the importance of talent management, noting that sometimes individuals are not able to utilize their full potential within a company and may not be able to play the role they are best suited for.