“For three decades, Huawei has been suffering and no joy,” Ren said in an interview. “The pain of each episode is different.”
The escalating clash with Washington has transformed Ren from an admired but rarely seen businessman worth an estimated $3 billion into one of China’s most prominent figures.
He belongs to the generation of entrepreneurs who founded communist-era China’s first private companies in the 1980s. They navigated a shifting, state-dominated landscape, overcoming shortages of money and technology to create industries that are expanding abroad.
Ren launched Huawei in 1987 after his military post was eliminated.
Huawei is a star in industries the ruling Communist Party is promoting but a target for complaints those plans are based on stealing or pressuring foreign companies to hand over business secrets.
Despite his success, Ren talks like a struggling rookie, worrying aloud that employees might get too comfortable.
Ren writes letters urging employees to “prepare for the worst,” said Nicole Peng of Canalys, an industry research firm.
As for “whether his character can help the company to survive,” said Peng, “I’m sure it will. It will survive. Like he said, they are prepared for it. They know there is always difficulty.”
Born in 1944, Ren was raised by a schoolteacher who he said fed seven children on a monthly wage of 40 yuan ($6).
When Ren was a teenager, the ruling party embarked on the Great Leap Forward, a disastrous campaign to become an industrial power overnight. At least 30 million people died in the 1959-61 famine that followed.