Freed Huawei Finance Chief Meng Wanzhou Returns to Company Spotlight

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The daughter of Huawei’s founder takes center stage in Shenzhen for her first major appearance since release from detention in Canada

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Ms. Meng has kept a low profile since she was released from house arrest in Canada in September after ending a three-year legal fight against extradition to the US on fraud charges, avoiding major events featuring other top Huawei executives. But with the company giving an update on finances Monday, she took the lead at a press conference, unveiling a mixed slate of figures that show the tech giant is still working to reboot in the face of long-running US restrictions.

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Revenue fell 29% last year to 636.8 billion yuan, equivalent to about $100 billion, from 2020, mainly due to sharp declines in smartphone sales and decreasing revenue from its core business of selling to telecom operators. Net profit, however, rose 76% to a record 113.7 billion yuan, boosted by the sale of a mobile phone unit to a government-led consortium. The sale allowed the phone unit to maintain its access to crucial US chips following an export blacklisting of Huawei that has barred its purchase of many parts and software.

Speaking in Mandarin and accompanied by an interpreter, Ms. Meng offered few details about her life back at the company helm in Shenzhen, but said the company’s cash flow has improved to make Huawei “more capable of dealing with uncertainty.”

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“The world has changed so much,” she said. “Over the past six months, I’ve been learning and trying to catch up.”

The release of Ms. Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, capped a high-stakes legal drama that made her the center of a geopolitical standoff between the US and China, and transformed her into a celebrity in her home country on her return.

Ms. Meng spent three years in Vancouver fighting a legal battle with the US, which sought to extradite her on charges of bank fraud related to Huawei’s alleged violations of US sanctions on Iran. The US agreed to defer and ultimately drop the charges against Ms. Meng in a deal that also saw the release of two Canadians being held in China. Huawei has continued to contest the US’s separate sanctions-busting charges.

Before her arrest, Ms. Meng was among Huawei’s most high-profile executives, crisscrossing the world to speak at conferences, meet heads of state and pitch the company’s technology to customers. She was widely seen as a potential heir to her father, who remains Huawei’s chief executive almost 35 years after founding the firm.

Ms. Meng on Monday discussed the company’s finances in a chandeliered ballroom before an audience of journalists at its Shenzhen headquarters and others tuning in online from overseas.

Although privately held, Huawei offers a limited, unaudited snapshot of some of its finances each quarter, and releases more detailed audited figures once a year, alongside a lengthy annual report.

Revenue from Huawei’s consumer business, formerly the company’s biggest revenue generator, fell by almost half last year. Once the world’s largest seller of smartphones, the company is now a minor player in the market due to its inability to source advanced chips. It has shifted its consumer business to focus on software and other gadgets less dependent on advanced chips, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Meanwhile, revenue generated from Huawei’s carrier business fell 7%, a sign that the US restrictions are curbing the company’s core business of selling telecom equipment to global carriers.

The company’s enterprise business unit, which sells an array of software and other technology to businesses and governments, grew just 2.1%, a sharp slowdown in growth from the year before.

Although Huawei’s annual revenue fell, the pace of the decline slowed toward the end of the year. After declining in 2020, the company’s cash and short term investments rose 17% to about $65 billion.

“Huawei’s overall financial position is sound,” Ms. Meng said.

Write to Dan Strumpf at [email protected]


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