An arrest, a debutante ball, and 3 marriages: Inside the insane lives of the super rich Huawei dynasty
- Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested on December 1 in Canada over fears the company violated US sanctions against Iran.
- Meng is the daughter of Huawei's ultra-wealthy CEO and founder, Ren Zhengfei.
- Ren and his three children are Chinese royalty, given Huawei is China's most successful tech firm and is bigger in smartphones than Apple.
- While Meng and her brother Meng Ping work at Huawei and keep their heads down, their half-sister Annabel Yao is a social media-loving socialite who loves ballet and recently appeared at a high-fashion debutante ball in Paris.
The high-profile arrest of Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, 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 firmly compete with Apple's iPhone, Samsung's flagships, and Google's Pixel line.
Now US authorities are scrutinising the Chinese company, and Meng in particular, for potentially violating its trade sanctions against Iran.
Meng isn't just Huawei's CFO, she's Chinese royalty. Her father, Ren Zhengfei, is the founder and CEO of Huawei and keeps an ultra-low profile despite his reputed massive wealth of $3.2 billion (about R45 billion).
According to reports, Ren has been married three times, and produced a brood of sons of daughters, not all of whom are quite so media-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 the family:
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.
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.
He's denied that the Chinese government has ever asked Huawei to spy.
Around that time, Ren married his first wife, Meng Jun and 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 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.
Huawei has become the biggest electronics brand in China, and Ren Zhengfei is thought to be worth $3.3 billion.
Ren also divorced his first wife not long after setting up Huawei, and married Yao Ling. The two had 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.
Shortly before her half-sister Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada, Yao was attending a high-fashion debutante ball in Paris.
Here she is at the ball:
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 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.
The 'palace' is 2km² and has chandeliers.
According to Chinese media reports, Ren is onto his third wife. This time, he wed his former assistant Su Wei.
Ren Zhengfei has issued harsh rebukes to his other kids, Meng Wanzhou and Meng Ping. 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 and, 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 chairperson 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.
Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.
Also from Business Insider South Africa:
- Elon Musk: ‘I want to be clear, I do not respect the SEC’
- Apple buys Tesla and a solar flare wipes trillions from the economy: 10 outrageous predictions for 2019
- South African bands only make R50,000 per million plays from Spotify and Apple Music. Here’s how they make ends meet.
- Four ways to get the most out of South Africa’s upcoming public holidays
- The 10 highest-paid YouTubers of 2018 - and the top earner is a 7-year-old boy
- Dubai has the world's 2nd-largest mall with an aquarium and 1,200 stores – and it is not worth visiting
- A lawyer who represents cruise passengers reveals the one thing you need to know before getting on a cruise ship