“We must not only reduce and clean up email, but also improve the quality of expression in email,” said Ren, according to a copy of the speech dated April 15 on Huawei’s employee online forum. “Legal documents must be accurate, with fewer adjectives.”
On document retention, he said: “Besides saving legal materials and important company documents with a longer validity period, useless historical materials must be automatically sunsetted.”
The contents of internal Huawei documents have loomed large in several recent crises. Ren’s daughter Meng Wanzhou, who is Huawei’s chief financial officer, remains in Canada on bail. She is battling extradition to the United States, which has cited a PowerPoint presentation as evidence in the case against her.
U.S. prosecutors allege the PowerPoint presentation fraudulently represented Huawei’s business in Iran, which they say violated U.S. sanctions. Meng’s defense lawyer has disputed this, saying the presentation to HSBC supplied enough information for the bank to gauge its sanctions risk.
Huawei faced a separate backlash after The Washington Post reported in December on internal documents showing the company’s work on surveillance technologies with racial profiling functions. A “Uyghur alarm” could alert police when it identified a member of the Muslim ethnic minority through facial recognition technology, according to test records found by the research organization IPVM.
Following the report of the “Uyghur alarm,” a Huawei vice president of communications in Denmark resigned in protest, and French soccer star Antoine Griezmann quit as a brand ambassador. Huawei said at the time it was investigating the documents and did not condone the use of Huawei technology to discriminate against any community.
A Huawei spokesperson said in a statement that “linking Mr. Ren’s recent speech to external incidents is a gross misrepresentation of facts.” The spokesperson said Huawei’s top management had adopted the “sunset provision” in November 2016 for administrative and process documents to have a definite validity period.
“Mr. Ren’s recent speech builds on the company’s continuous efforts to simplify management and reduce bloat, as such efforts can increase efficiency and save operational costs,” the spokesperson said.
In his typical military metaphor, Ren, who spent his early years as a Chinese army engineer, told a Huawei working group in the April speech that the changes would help the company advance from “guerrilla troops” to a “regular army.”
“In the future, there will be clear rules,” he said. “We will not interfere with scientists writing papers, but otherwise for internal memos, approximately 100 words is okay for level 17 and above, 200 words for level 16, and 300 words for level 15 and below. If you don’t express yourself clearly, when it comes time for battle, the wrong orders might even be called out.”
Levels 15 through 17 are middle ranks in Huawei’s employee hierarchy, with a higher number being a higher rank.
Ren also encouraged employees to have coffee more often with one another and with members of the team tasked with reducing extraneous work documents.
“Working groups must communicate repeatedly with the reform department,” he said. “Drinking coffee is a form of communication. If you don’t have coffee, plain water is okay, or holding an empty cup is also fine.”
Pei Lin Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.