- The secretive dynasty behind Chinese tech giant Huawei is under the spotlight, thanks to the US putting the company on a trade blacklist and its claims that the company is a conduit for Chinese spying.
- The company was founded by the usually press-shy Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer with the Chinese army. It is thought to have grown out of close financial ties to the Chinese state.
- Ren has tried to defend his company’s reputation in recent months by giving multiple media interviews, opening up about his family for the first time.
- Business Insider took a look into the lives of Ren’s family, who are Chinese business royalty.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
US action against Huawei, such as the arrest of its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, and a trade blacklist has thrust the Chinese mobile and telecommunications firm into the Western spotlight.
Most people know Huawei in the US and Europe for its well-produced line of smartphones that compete with Apple’s iPhone, Samsung’s flagships, and Google’s Pixel line.
The firm also sells mobile network equipment to global telcos, and it’s that element of the business that has raised alarm bells in the US. Fearing the firm is a conduit for Chinese spying, the US has placed the company on a trade blacklist, effectively locking it out of the US.
All of this has resulted in CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei granting multiple interviews to try and defend his company. Ren rarely gave interviews previously, nor did he speak much about his family. Huawei’s CFO, awaiting extradition, happens to be his daughter. He has a reputed wealth of $3.2 billion.
Ren has married twice, and he’s produced a brood of children. Not all of them are quite so press-shy. Here’s his youngest daughter, Annabel Yao, appearing at a debutante’s ball in Paris in November 2018:
Here’s a window into the lives of these crazy-rich Asians:
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei was born in 1944, and came of age just before China’s Cultural Revolution began. Zhengfei is his first name, as surnames come first in China.
Ren was born in China’s poorest province, Guizhou. He told the BBC in 2015 that he came from a humble background. “We had salt to cook with so we were considered wealthy,” he said.
The BBC show is no longer available, but you can read a summary here.
In a 2019 interview with the Chinese media, Ren said: “I was nobody. I had nothing but good academic performance. My family was poor and my father was locked up in a ‘cow shed.'”
At the age of 30, Ren joined China’s military as an engineer — a connection that still provokes questions about Huawei’s ties to the army and the government.
Ren has denied that the Chinese government has ever asked Huawei to spy.
Ren told Chinese media that he has been married twice. Little is known about his first wife, Meng Jun, but he described her in a 2019 interview as “very tough.” He explained that she had been a political commissar of the Red Guards, Mao’s volunteer paramilitary movement.
After they married, the couple had a daughter, Meng Wanzhou, in the early 1970s, and a son, Ren Ping.
Meng Wanzhou, also known as Sabrina or Cathy Meng, took her mother’s surname while a teenager and worked her way up to become Huawei’s CFO. She was arrested in Canada in December 2018.
Little is known about her brother Ren Ping, also known by his mother’s surname as Meng Ping, except that he works for a Huawei subsidiary and appears to have little interest in taking over the business his father founded, according to The New York Times.
The US authorities feared Meng was involved in covering up links between Huawei and a company that sold Huawei’s kit to Iran, violating US sanctions.
China has reacted furiously to Meng’s arrest, demanding the US withdraw its arrest warrant.
Ren has recently opened up about having two young children while serving in the Chinese army. He said he only saw them every 11 months.
Ren Zhengfei retired from the Chinese army in 1983 at the age of 39, according to his official biography, and after a stint working in oil set up Huawei in 1987. That’s 12 years after its main rival in mobile, Apple, was founded.
Ren’s children were still young, and he has said that he still saw little of them while putting in 10-hour workdays at the newly established Huawei. He told Chinese media in 2019: “To enter the international market and prove that Huawei’s success was not built on corruption, I stayed overseas for a few months in a row and had little contact with my children.”
Ren added that his children had formed their own personalities. “They have become who they are through their own efforts, and they demand a lot of themselves.”
The long hours paid off financially. Huawei went on to become the biggest electronics brand in China, and Ren Zhengfei is thought to be worth $3.3 billion.
Ren divorced his first wife after 20 years, and remarried. His current wife is called Yao Ling, who he has described as “very gentle and capable.” He told Chinese media that Yao and his ex-wife get along “quite well.”
Yao Ling keeps out of the spotlight, but she did appear in photos taken by the French magazine Paris Match in 2018.
Yao Ling and Ren have a daughter, Annabel Yao.
Judging by her Instagram, Yao is a fashionable socialite.
21-year-old Annabel Yao lives the life of a Chinese princess, attending the prestigious Harvard to study computer science. She’s also passionate about ballet and fashion. But her father has also described her as extremely hard-working and academic.
It seems like Ren has a particular soft spot for Annabel, describing her love of dancing in interviews and agreeing to an intimate family photoshoot in Paris Match. “We felt it would be much better to support her in doing whatever she wants to do,” he said.
Ren said Annabel danced 15 hours a week while at school, and would then do her homework late into the night.
Shortly before her half-sister Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada, Yao was attending a high-fashion debutante ball in Paris.
Le Bal des Débutantes is usually attended by children of the super-wealthy and famous. Previous guests include the daughter Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon, and Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter.
Little is known about how Ren spends his wealth, but a 2018 Paris Match article outlined the family posing in a luxurious ‘palace’ in Shenzen built to receive Huawei visitors. According to Paris Match, Annabel Yao persuaded her father to pose in the photoshoot to celebrate her appearance at the debutante ball.
Ren says this of being persuaded into the photoshoot: “When she brought up the idea of taking a family photo, I was the first to support her and allowed her to post it online. Her mother had thought that I would decline this request, but I didn’t. I owe my children, and the least I can do is support them, so that my daughter can focus on her studies and take control of her own destiny.”
There are rumours in the Chinese media that Ren married a third time, marrying his former assistant Su Wei. But in 2019 interviews, Ren continues to refer to Yao Ling as his current wife.
This is Ren with the UK’s former chancellor, George Osborne.
Although Ren has softened his stance on his kids in recent media interviews, he once issued his two elder children a tough rebuke. He reportedly once said neither possessed the right qualities to lead Huawei in future.
Running Huawei would require vision, determination and a long-term view, he wrote in an email seen by Sina Tech.”None of my family members possesses these qualities; therefore, they will never be included in the sequence of successors,” he reportedly said.
Meng Wanzhou seems to have proven her father wrong to some extent, joining Huawei in 1993 and rising through the ranks to become its CFO. She replaced her father as vice chairman in March 2018.
Taking after her father, Meng appears to be relatively private and little is known about her personal life. Her family is thought to own this palatial property in British Vancouver in Canada.
According to Chinese media reports, Meng has two children.
Her arrest has triggered international tensions between the US and China, which has demanded her release.
Meng Wanzhou has appeared in court several times in Canada. Her lawyers are fighting her extradition to the US.
In court, Meng’s lawyers have revealed that she suffers several health problems, including hypertension, struggling to eat solid food, and trouble sleeping.
She also offered to put up several multimillion-dollar homes as bail collateral.
Meng has written to Huawei’s 188,000 employees, assuring them she is well. She wrote in the letter: “My inner self has never felt so colorful and vast.”
Ren Zhengfei told Chinese media that he expects jail time for his daughter.