New Huawei Jamaica CEO urges young people to focus on technology

NEIL Grant has a message for young people who are scratching their heads in trying to choose a career: Technology is the way to go.

And who should know about the value of technology than Neil Grant, the freshly appointed chief executive officer of Huawei Jamaica’s most important medium – the Carrier Network.

Still trying to decide where his high school loyalties should lie – whether at Campion College, the institution where he spent the first five years of high school; or Wolmer’s Boys’ School where he did sixth form, Grant has no qualms about what he considers the future endeavour of the world, which is why he decided to mix years of experience in information technology into the pot with communication technology.

“I have even geared my son who is 20 years old into the technology field,” he said. “If you look around, you will realise that behind everything today there is some form of technology, and that is only going to increase. So, it is a space that will be present and will change the way we do things for a very long time to come.

“Huawei, for example, has just launched its first driverless car system. I will be working with many manufacturers to deliver the smarts behind cars driving automatically and so on. With the world of AI [artificial intelligence] we are going to see more changes in the next 10 years than we have seen in the last 50 as machine-learning becomes more of a mainstream item. When it comes to the technologies of the cloud, AI, 5G – which is the speed at which people receive things remotely – it certainly is the field that will be driving all other industries for decades to come, if not for the rest of time,” the Kingstonian said of one of the globe’s leading providers of information and communication technology, along with smart devices and infrastructure.

The new big man still intends to continue the work with Jamaica’s top two universities – The University of the West Indies and the University of Technology, Jamaica – in training a select number of students under a four-year-old project which entails sending them to China and teaching them about new technology that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see in the universities here.

Grant will tell you too, that the company also has upcoming plans to do even more in terms of its “giving back” and positioning young people to take opportunities. “Within this year, we will be doing a lot more,” he insisted.

With Grant’s latest appointment, after spending the better part of six years as account executive manager with responsibility for growth and sustainable development of Huawei’s portfolio across the digital Caribbean and Central American telecoms organisation, the usual Chinese personnel dominance in high positions has slowed. It could even suggest that more confidence is being invested into local talent.

“I put myself into the Chinese shoes and learn their way of doing things. That’s where the trust came from in working with different persons in the region, and then in turn now they have entrusted me with not just the account but the entire department that deals with telephone operators, ISPs [internet service providers] and other things in Jamaica and the wider community, from Bermuda to Cayman, to St Maarten – so everything through the northern Caribbean, except Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic where we have another office for those countries,” Grant responded.

“So the feeling of even the representation of the other local staff in the company has served as a motivator thus far in terms of seeing your own Jamaican colleague rising to a station that traditionally you wouldn’t see.

“I don’t only work with Chinese. Because of how we are positioned in my representative office there are a lot of Spanish folk also, locals, Latin guys and the Chinese. It’s sometimes a surreal feeling sitting with leadership…we just had a global VP here last week and to receive kudos from guys at that level who have been with the company since its inception, sit on the board and so on, I see it as a stepping stone, a pathway that other locals will step up and take.

“The company also recognises that there is enough local talent that they can start distributing the leadership of the different entities, and customers in those countries also feel more comfortable and committed where a local person is in charge because when the Chinese leadership exists in the company they tend to be rotated every two or three years so there is no continuity, and it is deemed that they will only have a two- or three-year purview on the companies dealing with.

“So they have said, ‘Look, where we have good local talent’ – and I am told that I am being used as an example –’we should give those local talent the opportunity to take the mantle and basically to lead, and it would serve well for the company overall because the customers are a lot more comfortable dealing with them.’ They know that you are here to stay, and so the element of trust is developed,” Grant said.

Of the 45 full-time staff at Huawei Jamaica, most are Jamaicans and only seven are Chinese. The company engages in excess of a further 300 part-time employees, many of whom serve as subcontractors to deliver projects for customers.

For his short-term priorities, Grant, while underscoring the importance of the financial PKIs (public key infrastructure), cited an “immediate mandate” for him to restructure the team that he uses around him and develop that team, putting in some more of the local individuals who he would have gained confidence in over his tenure, and immediately start to look at growing the business in the wider geographic space in Jamaica.

“We are strategic partners of Digicel. They remain our primary focus from here but we also are moving to do more in countries like The Bahamas and other islands, so it’s to tap new opportunities in the wider space to try to grow the potential while at the same time looking around and developing the local talent in such a way that they can be given mandates to go out to countries and project the brand. In the near term it is an internal fix and looking at possibilities in the wider geographic space,” he said.

And unlike most companies operating in Jamaica which have been impacted negatively by the effects of the novel coronavirus, Huawei Jamaica managed to avoid the choke.

“Actually, one of the areas that has done relatively well in this time of virtual work is telecommunication, so we have been able to hold our own. It’s a new way of working but as a global entity we have always worked remotely. We can’t have all the resources here. We have been using videoconferencing of which we have been manufacturers of great videoconferencing equipment. We use that in our daily operations from I started working here. I had my second interview and final interview via videoconference so it’s the norm of us doing business remotely. Of course we have lost some of the synergy that people bring when they sit in front of each other but we were able to, successfully, last year roll out 550 LTE [long-term evolution] sites in the height of the pandemic. Operators had work to do, they called on us to do it, and our teams delivered last year. We had a pretty good year last year.

“It has cautioned some thinking and caused you to alter some planning so in that regard it has brought about some level of change, but we have done well to manage during the period,” the CEO said.

Huawei recorded 11 per cent growth last year.

As for the relationship between China and the United States, which became deeply strained under then US President Donald Trump between 2017 and last year but which is now the subject of negotiations between the Biden Administration in the US and the same Chinese political leadership, Grant stayed clear of the boxing match between the two world giants while underscoring his company’s emphasis.

“I will stay away from the politics of it but Huawei’s successes are based solely on its own future outlook and its continued investment in research and development. We have now been positioned as number three according to the EU R&D Leisure. We are now the third-largest in terms of monetary spend on research and development across all industries in the world, and I think it is only Alphabet [Inc], which is Google, and Samsung [that] are ahead of us. We are now ahead of companies like Microsoft, Volkswagen etc.

“So, if you are investing that type of money in your research and development and it’s channelled in the right way, there is no way that you will not remain a world leader. Huawei continues to offer cutting edge, safe and secure equipment, and our goal in life is to have everybody and everything connected in this world; that’s the mantle by which we exist. We see that as a big part of the world’s future,” Grant said.

Before his latest stop at Huawei, information technology student Grant, a graduate of the College of Arts, Science & Technology, now University of Technology, and Nova University, worked at Advanced Integrated Systems and was instrumental in that company’s development, and was also employed to Illuminat, now part of the Massy group, where he spent 15 years.

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