Huawei wants instant impact

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In his first interview since joining the Chinese firm, Mark Mitchinson tells Michael Garwood why he believes Huawei can become a top three global manufacturer under his tenure

Mark Mitchinson has built himself a solid reputation during his 22 years in the mobile industry, having held high-profile management positions at Nokia, Brightpoint, Samsung and most recently Best Buy Europe.

It is his achievements in the mobile manufacturer space for which he is best known, having played key roles in helping both Nokia and later Samsung to market-leading positions in the UK.

Such is his CV, on leaving his role as vice president of the UK and Ireland at Samsung last year, he was linked to a number of high-profile roles – the strongest being his former employers Korean rivals LG.

But despite offers from a number of unnamed tier-one manufacturers, as well as operators and distributors, Mitchinson, via a short stint at Carphone Warehouse (see box in full feature) made the surprising and unexpected move to become the Executive VP of Huawei – a company with virtually no brand presence in the UK today.

His remit is to make Huawei a major player in the smartphone market, first in the UK and then replicate the model across other parts of Europe and beyond.

No easy task. And Mitchinson openly admits this is the biggest and most exciting challenge of his career to date, but one he has no doubts can provide him with a personal hat-trick of success stories in the manufacturer space.

Supply deals have already been agreed with “two or three” of the UK operators, while others are “imminent”, Mitchinson claims, but declined to give names.

Expansion / partnership
The foundations for this drive have certainly been laid-down and can be seen clearly through its recently announced plans to double UK headcount to about 1,000 by the end of the year across all divisions.

Huawei employs more than 110,000 globally – of which 45 per cent work in research and development, a proportion it claims is unheard of among its rivals.

It has opened strategically placed satellite offices in Paddington, which are a stone’s throw from the Vodafone and Everything Everywhere offices. It also has one in Slough, just a short distance from O2 and one of its two distributors Data Select – the other being 20:20 Mobile.

Mitchinson jokes that every Monday morning while sitting in his office at the Hauwei HQ in Basingstoke, between 10 and 15 new starters peer through his office window. He claims the company receives endless CVs from industry personnel wanting to join the firm.

Kid in a sweet shop
Speaking to Mitchinson in Huawei’s Paddington office, there is an undeniable excitement in his voice. Although unable to discuss his plans in any detail, he compares himself to a child in a sweet shop, because of the opportunities at his disposal.

And like an overenthusiastic child, he’s not prepared to wait. He wants evidence of success this year and says significant strides to make Huawei a known and trusted brand for mobile devices will be evident in the coming months, by way of handset launches and marketing campaigns.

“There was no other manufacturer I could have contemplated working for after speaking with Huawei. It was a no-brainer,” says Mitchinson.

“I like building businesses and building brands from very early on. It’s what I do best. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could turn this into something really successful. And that’s what drives me. I have genuinely never been more excited about an opportunity.

“I’m not happy with saying we are building a business for next year: that’s simply not quick enough for me.

“My team are very motivated around this new style of leadership. And it is new. I’m not going to replicate everything I ever did at Nokia or Brightpoint or Samsung. This is a new start and I know exactly what I am going to do.

“You will see a degree of advertising and one or two product launches this year. I won’t say anything more than that, but the success is imminent. That will set us up for next year. But we are going to do it in a very measured way and a very successful way.”

And although proud of his CV, he says past efforts count for nothing. “Tear it up”, he insists, and judge him on what he achieves with Huawei.

“Whatever has gone before, just tear it up. I will never rest on my laurels and anyone who knows me, knows what I say is true.”

Talking the talk
But every manufacturer has made similar statements over the years – almost all holding the advantage of having an established brand in the market space.

Mitchinson openly acknowledges it won’t be easy, highlighting the advantages of Samsung already being an established brand for consumers prior to it entering the mobile phone space. He admits the name Huawei means virtually nothing to consumers today.

But he claims to be unfazed by this, and insists the Chinese firm’s ambitions to succeed should not be underestimated.

“As a consumer brand Huawei is pretty much nonexistent right now. So that’s the big challenge for us. I remember telling a friend six or seven years ago Samsung would be number one for mobile handsets and he said no way. I reached that number one position in my time there, so it is not impossible.

“We have a huge opportunity and the growth is going to be phenomenal.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 493 (July 18, 2011).

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