Morgan Elliott loves a challenge, and he’s certainly taken one on as the new vice-president of government affairs at Huawei Canada. We sat down with him, three months into the job, to see how he’s faring.
Elliott, who has spent his entire career either working in government or in a government affairs position with companies like Cisco, BlackBerry, Shaw Communications, and SOTI, came into the job with his eyes open.
“It’s funny, when the first phone call came, I was like, ‘No way, are you crazy?'” he recalled. “And it hearkened back to the BlackBerry days. Remember, when all the kerfuffle was going on that all the security agencies across the globe wanted to shut down BlackBerry because it was too secure, and they couldn’t hack it, couldn’t get into it? And so we were dealing with governments across the globe that wanted to outlaw us from doing business in their market, and it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun. So I started thinking about it and go, wow, this is one of those opportunities again: a very complex geopolitical issue that doesn’t come around too often. So the thrill sort of won me over more than anything. Thrill may not be the best word, but it’s really challenging.”
Part of that challenge, he said, is in dispelling myths.
“It’s always far harder to dispel the negatives than it is to promote the positive in everything that Huawei does,” he noted. “And one thing that I’ve been really interested in is the whole culture of Huawei. Granted, I’m a little bit biased, but you hear companies talking about focus on the customer. But I have not seen a laser focus on customer satisfaction at any company like I’ve seen at Huawei.”
As far as security goes, he echoed his colleague John Suffolk’s statement that Huawei welcomes scrutiny, and the doors are open to the labs in Shenzhen or in Kanata, Ontario. “It’s not Dr. Evil’s lair,” he said. “There are serious engineers trying to solve engineering problems. We have nothing to hide.”
And, he said, the U.K. government’s security review process, although it found points to criticize, has recommended approval for use of Huawei technology.
The issue in the U.S., however, is a different thing entirely.
“This is a trade issue,” he said. “And it’s unfortunate that (U.S. president) Trump has put the friendship between Canadians and Americans in a tight spot, and as a result Canada has become a sesame seed caught between two boulders being China and the U.S. So it’s not about security. It’s about Mr. Trump, not Americans, but Mr. Trump trying to extract a better trade deal from the Chinese.”
He went on, “It’s kind of a complicated situation. And when you’re trying to figure things out, you’re trying to look at things from the perspective of the parties involved. So in the U.S., Mr. Trump’s goal is to get a better trade deal. It was unfortunate that when Madam Meng was arrested that it happened the same time that (Chinese president) Xi and Trump were meeting. So I think there’s this perception that nefarious coordination amongst governments happened, and sometimes it’s just coincidence. I can understand why they reacted the way they did. Do I wish they reacted the way they did? No, of course not, every Canadian doesn’t.”
Despite this, he believes that Huawei’s chief executive officer Ren Zhengfei now understands that Canada was duped by Mr. Trump, and the arrest was more about securing a trade deal with China than about security. In recent meetings at the company’s head office in Shenzhen, China, Elliott said that Ren spoke very highly of Canada; he has toured the country, and publicly stated that he plans to spend billions here to create an AI centre.
“We made a commitment as part of an announcement with the provincial government a couple years ago as part of the jobs prosperity fund that we would invest $500 million, and we said we’d hire over the next five years 200 R&D people, many engineers, highly technical people,” Elliott said. “Unfortunately, we failed miserably, because we missed the target by four years, because we’ve already hired the 200. And we’re up to 300. The opportunities are really good. And the thing that that we worry about is we want to invest in Canada, but we don’t want the issue to be mixed with what’s going on at a government to government basis because that’s not why we’re doing what we want to do. We’re doing it because there’s good talent here. There’s a good base of research here.”