Woman arrested in Vancouver helped turn Huawei into household name in China

VANCOUVER — The tech executive whose arrest in Vancouver has sparked outrage from China is the well-educated daughter of a wealthy former military man who founded what eventually became one of the world's largest telecom companies.

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer and deputy chairwoman of Huawei Technologies, was arrested at Vancouver's airport while in transit over the weekend and faces extradition to the United States on unspecified charges.

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Meng is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei from his first marriage. Chinese enterprises are often family businesses and family members take the best spots if they are qualified and interested, said Neil Abramson, a retired professor of business strategy at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business.

"She's the daughter of the chairman so she would be like Ivanka Trump. She would be the Ivanka Trump of Huawei," said Abramson, adding that Huawei is like the Apple of China and she's an extremely important businessperson.

"It would be like apprehending someone like Bill Gates or some very important American businessperson."

It's been reported that Ren wasn't that impressed with his daughter, but she rose up in the company through hard work rather than privilege, said Wenran Jiang, a senior fellow at the University of British Columbia's Institute for Asian Research.

"She was actually at one point criticized by her father and being suppressed from promotion. That was a well-known story and she eventually proved herself and moved herself up in the ranks," he said.

Ren founded Huawei in 1987 and it's grown into a major multinational with more than 170,000 employees doing businesses in more than 170 countries.

Meng's bio on the company website says she joined in 1993 and held various positions across the company, including director of international accounting and CFO of Huawei Hong Kong. She holds a master's degree from Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

For a period of time she was in charge of Huawei's internationalization efforts, which have been extremely successful, said Jiang.

The company has embraced emerging markets in Africa, India and other places, making more than US$100 billion revenue this year and has overtaken Apple as the second-largest smartphone manufacturer without even having access to the U.S. market, he said.

Huawei is the most prestigious tech company in China and Meng is a "very high-profile" person in the country, Jiang said.

"This is not being taken lightly by both the Chinese government and the public."

It is not known what law is alleged to have been breached.

Jiang speculated that the investigation might involve Meng's previous role in broadening the company's global reach.

The Wall Street Journal reported this year U.S. authorities are investigating whether Huawei violated sanctions placed on Iran.

There have been reports that Huawei has intelligence ties with the Chinese government, sometimes citing Ren's previous military service, but there is no proof, Jiang said.

Jiang said he does not believe Meng lives in Vancouver or Canada.

The company's Canadian arm said in a statement that Meng's arrest is "in no way" related to Huawei Canada's business or research operations.

Meng's father, now 74, comes from rural roots, according to the Huawei website. His parents were school teachers and he grew up in the remote mountainous town in Guizhou province.

Huawei says Ren was a standout in the Chinese military's engineering corps, retiring in 1983 when the unit disbanded. He was invited to attend the National Science Conference in 1978 and the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1982.

Meng, who also goes by the first name Sabrina, is one of four deputy chairs listed on the Huawei website and one of three women to sit on the Huawei board.

She is credited in her bio with establishing Huawei's globally unified finance organization — helping grow the company to the world's largest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies.

Meng led the founding of five Huawei shared service centres around the world, her company bio says.

"These centres have boosted Huawei's accounting efficiency and monitoring quality, providing accounting services to sustain the company's rapid overseas expansion."

Since 2007, the company says Meng has been in charge of something called the Integrated Financial Services Transformation Program, a partnership between Huawei and IBM.

"Ms. Meng has continually worked to improve treasury risk and tax compliance management systems, and has helped to make financial operations within the company more efficient, agile, and intelligent," her Huawei bio reads.

— Follow @hinakalam and @ellekane on Twitter.

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