Kiwis are hugely proud of their No. 8 wire values – the ability to tackle anything even in modest or difficult circumstances, a philosophy Vera Wei embraced when she began Huawei's operations in this country 15 years ago.
As Huawei NZ celebrates its 15th anniversary, Wei remembers the multinational tech giant's humblest of beginnings here, the irony of not being able to receive or make phone calls – and the man applying for a job who wasn't put off at all by Huawei's slightly eccentric office and the fact he broke the chair he sat in for the interview.
They were, says Wei (now PR Manager for Huawei NZ) , memorable days, with the first "office" in New Zealand being her bedroom in her small Albany apartment while the company waited for all the necessary permissions to start trading here.
Even after Wei found an office, the sense of humble beginnings lingered: "It was in a basement and we were sharing it with 2degrees," she says. "The only problem was that, because we were in a basement, we couldn't make or receive phone calls on our mobiles – so we had to run outside every time we answered a call or made one."
It wasn't a great look for a company working to establish mobile networks to be having to rush outside to answer the phone. She found another office – this time above the Red Elephant Thai restaurant in Newmarket's Khyber Pass.
It was still far removed from a slick, corporate appearance: "We didn't buy furniture then – we just took what came with the office. None of the furniture matched; every chair was different."
Especially the one a man seeking a job sat in for his short-listed interview with Wei. The chair broke as soon as it took his weight: "He was only a little above average size, about 1.75m," she says. "The chair was so old, it was embarrassing".
Still, the man must have thought there was something to this strange new company – he went home, googled Huawei and found there was a great deal more to them than busted chairs. He signed up, performed well and was eventually promoted to a new job with Huawei Australia.
These beginnings were a far cry from what Huawei became - its technology products and services are available in more than 170 countries and are used by a third of the world's population, ranking high in global mobile phone shipments, and with R&D centres set up across the world including the United States, UK, Germany, Sweden, Colombia, Finland, India, Russia and Canada.
But the disruptor which now has its name on a 24-storey building in downtown Auckland, with over 100 staff from 17 nationalities, did not find it easy to break into the New Zealand market, Wei says: "Kiwis are very loyal people. They are cautious and staunch – and I mean that in a good way. They stay loyal to customers and suppliers; they stay firm once a partnership has been set up. Unless something really, really bad happens, they stick with their partners.
"That's a good thing and something Huawei believes in too – but it made it very hard to gain traction in this market in the beginning."
One of the difficulties with a new market like New Zealand was that few locals could actually pronounce the name in the beginning. It's pronounced Hwa-Way but there's been many mangled versions of that as Kiwis initially struggled to get their tongues round a strange new word.
A common mispronunciation was "Hoo-ah-we", which the company capitalised on when it decided to sponsor the Wellington Phoenix football club; a young member of the team's fan club gave them the idea of using the Huawei name to frame a question introducing the club and the fan club: "Who Are We?"
Rob Barnes, head of Huawei's risk and compliance, has been with the company since 2010 and says Kiwis soon learned who Huawei was. The company's first big win was building the 2degrees network, from greenfields to launch in just seven months.
They also sprang into national action after the Christchurch earthquake, with Huawei people driving to Christchurch from Auckland and Wellington to make sure the 2degrees network survived: "I don't think some of our guys realised, among all the hard work and long hours, just what we were achieving. Keeping that network going meant some people under rubble could use their mobiles to show their location – it actually saved lives.
"It also established our reputation as a company which would run towards a disaster to help fix things, not in the opposite direction. A 2degrees executive told me that Huawei cared as much about his network as he did – and he wasn't used to that."
The great Telecom (now Spark) XT outage of 2011 was also a huge opportunity for Huawei who then helped Spark replace its competitor's XT and roll out new 3G, 4G and 4.5G equipment. They also installed about 30 per cent of New Zealand's ultra-fast broadband from Tauranga in the east to New Plymouth in the west, as well as Christchurch.
Both Wei and Barnes talk about Huawei's can-do, nothing-is-impossible attitude. Wei speaks of a business pitch which necessitated long hours over a holiday weekend, with staff – 80 per cent of whom are locals these days – sleeping on couches and the office floor.
"Things were pretty cosy in New Zealand before we and 2degrees came along," says Barnes. "There were the big two operators (Telecom and Vodafone) and they had to share everything. It was pretty comfortable – but Huawei has helped disrupt that, to the advantage of customers and ordinary Kiwis."