It was about 20 miles from my second ultra-marathon when I had the heart attack.
As I sat there, downing a ninth can of Coke to inject sugar and energy into my exhausted body, my despair grew: I clearly wasn’t going to beat my previous time.
But I was determined to finish the race. The next 43 miles were a struggle as I traversed the hills of Ridgeway in England alongside other grim-faced runners through an unwelcome flurry of heavy summer hail.
Two things pushed me. The first was the thought of the finisher’s medal: if you don’t finish, you don’t get it.
Second, I didn’t realize I had had a heart attack. If I had known, I would have stopped. As even my wife will attest from time to time, I’m not a complete idiot.
I thought about this recently while writing the latest edition of Huawei’s Thought Leadership Magazine, Transform. It’s been a little over a year since I joined the company, and the jokes from my non-Huawei friends are as familiar as the forced smile I dutifully wear upon hearing them: How’s life in the Chinese government these days, Gav?… Hey, Gav’s here, I better turn my phone off, in case anyone’s listening.
Like an ultra-marathon, it goes on and on. I deserve another medal.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. “Listen,” said a former college friend when he learned that I was leaving the BBC for Huawei. “There is a new Cold War…” Dramatic pause. “…And I’m just afraid you’re joining the wrong side.”
Yet here I am. After spending 27 years at BBC News being wrongly accused of working for the UK government, I am now being wrongly accused of working for China.
I blame the media, of course. Journalists – and I ran a department that numbered 1,500 – like immediacy. They love the new angle, the little factual discovery that allows them to “move the story forward” and have one on rival media, even if most viewers won’t know or care about the difference.
Meanwhile, the slow-moving behemoths of true societal change continue, largely unnoticed. Technology transforms everything, but most journalists focus on the billionaire who launched a private space rocket, or how long it will take before AI becomes sentient and takes over the planet.
I understand. It was like that for me too, until I joined Huawei.
As with the BBC, my confidence in the company has grown over time. While Huawei’s global footprint and heavy spending on R&D are impressive, the journalist in me reacts to stories of people: a retired French chef who learned to use the internet through a Huawei training program; an entrepreneur who created a digital platform to help farmers in her native Uganda; a New Zealand doctor who brings health care to remote towns with a mobile clinic built in a high-tech shipping container.
These and other stories give me confidence in the power of technology to transform lives.
At the BBC, we believed in public service, impartiality and accountability of power. But I always thought that as journalists we were just observe change – lamenting failures and casting a weary armchair general’s eye at what others have done – rather than entering the fray ourselves. After 27 years, it was time to get off the couch, even if it meant enduring teasing and allegations of naivety.
Fortunately, I felt comfortable in my thick new skin. I’m pretty sure other PR professionals will go through a similar transition if they stay with the company long enough, figuring out how to represent clients whose identities have, for better or worse, become inextricably linked. to that of a particular country. It’s a challenge that will only get worse if the current rivalries escalate.
Yet while high-profile politicians may call for decoupling, corporations have a different view. Research from Morgan Stanley, for example, shows that 58% of managers surveyed in North America, Europe and Asia were either “somewhat unreceptive” to redesigning their global supply chains, or “not at all receptive “. No wonder: such a conversion – onshoring, nearshoring, friend-shoring, or call it what you want – costs money.
But there are also other costs. Innovation, that corporate talisman, cannot be magically conjured up simply by spending more on R&D. Another necessary ingredient is collaboration. According to Carl Benedikt Frey, an economist at the University of Oxford, innovation stagnates when researchers from different countries stop talking to each other. He argues that “by connecting real-world networks, such as Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, or Oxford and Zhongguancun, remote collaboration increases the innovation potential of [society’s] collective brain. Put up too many barriers, and that collective brain slowly starves itself of oxygen.
These are the kind of messages that I try to convey in my work at Huawei. And for today’s public relations professional, they go straight to what could be our industry’s defining challenge: how to operate globally without getting caught up in the geopolitics that hurt your client, your business or your own reputation.
Sometimes it can feel like an unwinnable fight. But it’s really more like an ultra-marathon. Crossing the finish line will take perseverance, courage and the will to keep going. Even if it sometimes gives you a heart attack.
Gavin Allen is an editor at Huawei Technologies. Previously, he spent 27 years at the BBC, where he led global news programming on TV, radio and online.