Meng Wanzhou, CFO of major Chinese tech company Huawei, has attracted the world’s attention since her arrest in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities.
On Dec. 1, Meng was arrested in Vancouver on suspicion of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Meng, who is the eldest child of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and was widely believed to be next in line to assume leadership over the military-linked company, is now a key figure in the increasingly tense Sino–U.S. diplomatic relationship.
Meng, who also is a granddaughter of Meng Dongbo, former deputy governor of China’s Sichuan province, was promoted to finance chief as part of a career at the company that began in 1993.
She uses two English names, Cathy and Sabrina. Because Ren Zhengfei married into the family of his first wife, Wanzhou’s mother Meng Jun, their two children took their mother’s surname. She was born in 1972, when China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution. Several years later, her brother, Meng Ping, was born. When she was in middle school, the family moved to Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong Province.
There is conflicting information about Meng’s education. While The Globe and Mail reported Dec. 5 that Meng dropped out of high school in 1992, Sinchew Net reported that Meng graduated from Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) around that time. In Meng’s official resume, there is no detailed information about her university education.
After leaving school, Meng worked as an agent of the China Construction Bank for about a year before becoming a secretary in a Huawei office in 1993.
“Meng and three other girls took charge of answering the telephones, printing documents, and other minor tasks,” her official resume said.
Although Meng was a junior secretary and didn’t reveal her family background, she had the opportunity to take overseas business trips, something that was unusual in China at the time.
In 1997, Meng went to HUST and received a master’s degree in 18 months, which is unusual. In China, the minimum term of a master’s degree education is two years, while most universities ask for three years. But many Communist officials earned master’s and doctoral degrees in a short period of time.
Meng then returned to Huawei from HUST and joined its finance team.
In 2007, IBM was hired by Huawei as a consultant company toward reforming its financial operations, and Meng was named to serve as a liaison. Using this training opportunity, “Meng improved her financial knowledge, as well as English,” her resume says.
Amid a busy schedule, Meng married Liu Xiaozong, a veteran Huawei employee and they had two children. Liu joined Huawei in 1996 upon graduating from university, before exiting in 2006 as senior business manager. He is now chairman of Shenzhen Qingfu Investment Co.
While China has a one-child policy, Hong Kong media have reported that Meng has a Hong Kong residence ID, which may be why she was allowed to have more than one child.
In 2011, Liang Hua, current Huawei chairman and former Huawei CFO, was promoted and Meng was picked to fill his position. Since then, Meng has made frequent public appearances representing Huawei, and it’s become public knowledge that she is Ren Zhengfei’s daughter.
Meng Ping joined Huawei after he graduated from university, and changed his surname to his father’s. Since 2010, there have been many reports in China saying that Ren had wanted for his son to inherit the business, but that Sun Yafang, then Huawei’s vice chairman, blocked the decision.
In March 2018, Meng Wanzhou was named vice-chairwoman, driving speculation that she would eventually take over the company.
One of the key companies that the U.S. government has named as a sanctions violator is Skycom Tech Co. Ltd. of Hong Kong, which was accused of trying to resell computer equipment made by Hewlett-Packard to Iran.
According to Skycom Tech sales proposals that were leaked in 2013, at least 13 pages were marked as “Huawei Confidential” and carried the Huawei logo. But both Huawei and Skycom Tech claimed that they haven’t sold anything to Iran.
Meng was a member of Skycom Tech’s board of directors. What kind of role she had and how deeply she was involved in its business and attempted Iran deal isn’t yet clear.