Hank Stokbroekx, VP in Huawei’s Shenzhen HQ: "Right in the middle of where innovation is happening”

Hank Stokbroekx, VP in Huawei’s Shenzhen HQ: 
"Right in the middle of where innovation is happening”

After having worked for over 20 years in the IT services industry in the U.S. and Europe, a recruiter approached Hank Stokbroekx with a proposal to join the Chinese competitor Huawei. Today, after seven years at Huawei’s HQ in Shenzhen, the Vice President of Huawei Enterprise Services is still happy with the choice he made. “This company is a fast mover and a tech leader, not only in networking but in many other exciting technologies.”

Being the VP of Huawei Enterprise Services, Stokbroekx’ key responsibility is Service Marketing for which he is based at the Huawei HQ in Shenzhen. Hank has joined Huawei in 2011 after working for over 20 years for ‘Western’ companies such as Cisco. Initially he helped build the Huawei Enterprise service business in Western Europe, and in 2012 took on the challenge of building the global Service Marketing organization in HQ.

Most consumers know Huawei for its smartphones, but the Huawei VP explains that this is only part of the picture. “In 2018 the smartphones generated 48 percent of our total revenues, while the carrier business – which sells mobile data communication solutions and services to operators worldwide – accounts for 41 per cent. Enterprise business, the area I am working in, with networking and data centers as important products, accounts for the remaining 11 percent.”

To know what customers want

The network systems and other products that Huawei develops and sells, need to be installed and maintained, which is part of the business that Stokbroekx is in. “The marketing part is all about developing new products and services, based on our customers’ needs. Also, it is our job to know what partners and customers want and how we can support them, today and in the future.”

It is a global business, Stokbroekx points out. “From our offices in over 170 countries, our engineers service our systems and solutions. Our Technical Assistance Centers in Romania, Mexico and Chengdu are ready for troubleshooting 24/7 and are key to our offering. On From 12 other technical assistance centers in the world, engineering teams offer support to regional customers. Finally, our 3,600 partners all over the world sell and service our products to their local customers.”

Differences and similarities

Asked about the differences and similarities between Silicon Valley enterprises and the Chinese tech giant, Stokbroekx insists that in many ways, Huawei is not much different from European or American companies. “If you look at how the company is run, how it handles its performance management and other important factors, Huawei is an international company. An enterprise that offers products and services on global scale, with employees that have different nationalities. Around the globe, we work with thousands of local partners – and we are successful in what we do.”

And: Huawei is incredibly agile. “It strikes me every time how fast this company can move. Decisions are made rather quickly. And once a decision is made, Huawei can roll it out at an incredible pace. Part of this is a result of the fact that this company knows its business and leadership is strong, with a clear hierarchy”, says Stokbroekx, who adds that Huawei is a young company, with an average employee age of about 30. “When you look around at the Huawei campus here in Shenzhen, it feels like a university – everyone is eager to make the company better and to be successful.”

Understanding cultural aspects

There are differences too. “In China, when the boss goes left, you are expected to go left. And obviously, dealing with leaders requires some understanding of cultural aspects such as ‘loss of face’: you just don’t criticize your boss in a meeting or in a crowd. Once you get to understand such unwritten and delicate rules, you learn to find the right tone of voice to offer ‘different perspectives’ in discussions. So yes, you do need to adapt to fit in, but the same applies when you start in any culture that is different from yours”, says Stokbroekx, a Dutch national.

Obviously, Stokbroekx is aware of discussions in certain countries which want to exclude Huawei from supplying 5G networking technology. Stokbroekx explains that while these conversations are taking place Huawei continues to focus on providing innovative products and services to its customers and partners. “Of course, I know about certain sentiments and discussions, but we can only focus on the job at hand: offering our customers the best products and services.”

An edge over competition

“In technology, Huawei undoubtedly has an edge over the competition – innovation is truly part of the company’s DNA. That may not come as a surprise, as of all 188,000 employees, no less than 80,000 are working in research and development. The strong focus on R&D explains why Huawei leads the pack in several exciting new areas in the digital transformation.”

Hank Stokbroekx intends to stay longer with Huawei in China, a decision in which the expat-friendly city of Shenzhen also plays a part. “The sub-tropical climate, the social scene and the good facilities in this city of 17 million people make Shenzhen a pleasant place to live for foreigners. A fascinating city, in which anybody can feel at home. As long as my business life with Huawei is as interesting as it is, I don’t feel the urge to return to Europe. ICT has always been my passion – working and living in Shenzhen makes me feel I am right in the middle of where innovation is happening.”

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