Is Huawei the “poster company” for Worst-Place-to-Work in Nigeria?

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The result of low or weak employee belief in an organization may not show immediately but in the long stretch, it rears its head in diminished productivity, weak perception by the external publics and ultimately in market failure

  • By Ikem Okuhu

In the restless global Smartphones market, where the likes of Apple, Samsung and HTC among many others have been battling for marketshare leadership, one brand has, in the past one year, been generating more than a passing interest. That brand is Huawei.

According to data released on February 16, 2017, by leading analyst firms Strategy Analytics and Counterpoints Research, Huawei Consumer Business Group (CBG) is now the world’s third largest smartphone manufacturer by market share, “commanding 10% of the total global market”, maintaining a decent third place behind great brands like Apple and Samsung.

In a year when total worldwide smartphone shipments totaled 1.47 billion units, Huawei shipped 139.3 million units in 2016, representing for the company, an increase 30.2% on 2015.

For a brand whose name was not in the top of the Smartphones food chain a couple of years ago, this is a major milestone. Worldwide, talk of Huawei potentially besting Apple and Samsung has been on. The brand has also been getting its marketing politically correct, winning all manner of awards for innovation across Europe, Asia and even the Americas.

Huawei is yet to register strong presence in Nigeria and only towards the end of 2016 did formal launch events for its Accent P9 phones. So far, not much has been heard of the brand. With Nigeria being one of the biggest Smartphones market in Africa, the potentials for Huawei to grow is quite high, especially in the value to mid-market segments.

This will happen, if it will overcome the challenges of association that has made the brand better known for heavy engineering in telecom and oil & gas.

But there is a major challenge before the Huawei brand in Nigeria and it is something that should be watched, not just for the future success of its Nigerian project but also for what it represents in Chino-Nigeria relations. And I speak from a personal experience as contained in the following narration.

Huawei is now makeing great phones. But it is also making the the list of Worst Places to Work in Nigeria

Huawei is now makeing great phones. But it is also making the the list of Worst Places to Work in Nigeria

Last year, I was invited for what I thought was a press briefing at Huawei’s office in Nigeria, located at the old Post Office on the Adeola Odeku-Olugu Agabeje intersection in Victoria Island, Lagos. The meeting was to start by 9.00am and I arrived at 8.45.

There was no ground staff to receive us on arrival and we had to wait for the agency to get us together and usher us in. Inside the office, we were taken to a meeting room and asked to wait. It took Huawei staff close to an hour to get themselves sorted out for what I was to soon learn was a training programme.

At a point, the person to handle the training arrived and asked if we were ready and we said we were. He took another 45 minutes probably preparing himself and his laptop.

I was irked.

Before he returned, a group of Chinese men had walked into the room, carrying backpacks and one flaunting a laptop.

The one with the laptop shoved his device at us, saying, “Excuse me, you have to leave this room.” I did not understand that and I asked him where he wanted us to go.

Obviously he did not know and didn’t care. But he dutifully announced again that they had a meeting in the same room.

I volunteered to tell him that those of us in that room were no Huawei staff and that we were also asked to remain in that room in wait for a meeting. I asked him if he had another place we could wait since we were not familiar with the environment but he reminded me, this time with stronger emphasis, that he was there for a meeting.

I refused to respond to him and when we refused to leave, he asked me again, “The person who asked you to wait here, is he a Chinese staff or a Nigerian staff? I did not understand that and asked him to repeat the question and he did.

I told him that I did not know and that it was not important if our host was Chinese or Nigerian. What was important, I said, is that this person is a Huawei staff.

After this, he walked out of the room and 10 minutes later, our “trainer” returned and made the worst “ice-breaking move” I yet have witnessed.

He asked us if we were comfortable and I told him we were not. He asked why? I told him that first of, he was late and that our reception on arrival was not good and that secondly, his Chinese colleagues were on the verge of throwing us out of the meeting.

“That is what you get when you work with a Chinese company in Nigeria.” This was the shocking response I got from the young man. I was so stunned I had to ask him to repeat what he had said and he did.

Trying to remind him that there should be no difference between a Chinese staff and a Nigerian staff in Huawei’s Nigerian operations was needless. He practically accepted that Nigerians working in Huawei are treated as second class citizens and that applied to all Nigerians doing business with the company.

I refused to accept that and a few minutes later, I walked out of the room, jumped into my car and drove back to the office.

One of the most terrible things to happen to a global company is to evolve a culture of lack of citizenship by employees. The company that wants to lead must institute, a matter of policy, full employee integration that will ensure staff become the strongest of viral ambassadors.

The result of low or weak employee belief in an organization may not show immediately but in the long stretch, it rears its head in diminished productivity, weak perception by the external publics and ultimately in market failure.

In a 2004 review of Worst Places to Work in the United States, Time mentioned poor employee satisfaction on the job as criteria for selection of the 10 companies in the list.

In the report, the magazine said of a particular company, “…less than half of employees approve of CEO. Many reviews cited low wages and poor benefits, conditions that often lead to employee dissatisfaction.”

I am not sure a satisfied employee would ever say what this Huawei staff said of his company to an outsider. What it means is that his daily routine in Huawei is that of enduring the undignifying and perhaps, dehumanizing attitude and treatment from his Chinese bosses. Such a person can never be productive.

I understand a number of Chinese firms operating in Nigeria treat their Nigerian staff this way and may have been getting away with it because of paucity of job spaces that force people to condone ill-treatment by senior personnel.

This may work fairly well for the short term. In the long run, dissatisfied personnel will become a major threat to profitability and eventually compromise the staying power of the business.

As reported by Yahoo! Finance, “These days, employees can easily share their work experiences online, and employee opinions about companies and managers are all readily available to prospective workers and customers alike. As a result, companies face new risks to their reputations. A company known for its poor work environment and treatment of employees may find the poor image can also curb its reputation with customers, hinder its ability to attract new workers, and even hurt its financial performance.”

Nigeria may not be the best environments at the moment in terms of protection of workers’ rights and amplification of employer abuse, but it may not be so forever. And when things begin to shape up properly, the company with poor employee citizenship will not grow into the future.

Even now, with such palpably unimpressive employee dissonance, I am convinced the journey into the retail space will be a tough one for Huawei.

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