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Telecommunications behemoth Huawei was previously better known in China for selling antennas and base stations, but the company shocked the world in summer 2016 when it announced ambitions to overtake Apple and Samsung to become the globe’s No. 1 smartphone maker within the next half-decade. That bold edict was all the more stunning since not too long ago the enterprise-focused business didn’t even have a consumer-facing division. "When we announced four years ago that we wanted to sell phones, people told us we were crazy. When we said we wanted to sell 100 million phones, they told us we were crazy," Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, said in November 2016. "We are going to take [Apple] step-by-step, innovation-by-innovation.”

With nearly 139 million smartphones sold in 2016, Huawei made serious strides toward that goal, with the help of more than 170,000 employees, a $9.2 billion R&D budget, and a unique leadership model in which three executives rotate as CEO throughout the year. “We built up this mechanism to avoid the risk of one single decision-maker making a mistake and sending Huawei in the wrong direction for too long,” explains Ryan Ding, a Huawei board member and R&D head. “So, in our culture, for six months we may be very conservative, and another six months we may be very aggressive. The structure allows these CEOs to continuously modify the direction of the whole company.”  

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