Pursuing Freedom – An Exclusive Interview with uCloudlink CMO Tan Zhu
After listening to the singing of musical poet Li Jian on the stage with his guitar and appreciating the lyrics, life is not just to muddle through, but also to fill with poems and fields faraway’ composed by unique talent Gao Xiaosong, we find that men majoring in engineering also seem to have literary hearts, and Tan Zhu is no exception. As an IT worker, Tan Zhu pursues the freedom of both body and mind in his simple and monotonous life. Through an interview with IT elite Tan Zhu, the former CSO of Huawei Radio, this reporter from Consumer Electronics became aware of the changes in his work and life history, and gained a clear idea of his self-improvement.
Super Scholar – Creatinglegends along his way
Along with universal stereotypes of IT people on the Internet such as ‘programmer monkey’ and ‘loser’, IT people have also come joke about themselves as time has passed; for example, Tan Zhu thinks he is very boring. Such sub-health states of IT people as obesity caused by highly intensive work in the IT industry is also quite worrying. One will not get hurt if he never compares himself with others. When seeing Tan Zhu’s previous photo, this reporter was surprised and asked, “Is that you? Really?”
Tan Zhu explained, “I was 95kg at my heaviest. I was too fat to walk with my knees supporting me because I could fall down at anytime”. He lost his weight years ago, and he now has swarthy skin and none of the signs of growing stout that are common among middle-aged men. Regardless of his disposition towards IT people, Tan Zhu was talkative, easy-going and straightforward in this interview.
Upon graduating from his postgraduate classes in 1997, Tan Zhu joined Huawei via college recruitment. When discussing his dramatic experience of entering Huawei, he said, “I was late for the written examination, so when I asked the examiner for the paper, he refused. However, he did let me sit down and talk with him, and afterwards he said I could sign a contract with Huawei the following day. I didn’t know what was going on at that time because I hadn’t really thought about a career.” Tan Zhu thought that the contract was only a piece of paper which would be over when it was used up. He just wanted to muddle through. However, Huawei told him, “We don’t need a contract. Here’s a paper. You can join us if you sign it. It’ll be fine if you don’t sign it. It’s your choice.” Attracted by Huawei’s distinctive tolerance and reliability, Tan Zhu decided to join. He was late for the examination, but he was the first to pass the reexamination.
In the beginning, Tan Zhu was assigned to deal with the base station processing. During his work, he suddenly found that knowledge used practically was much deeper than the knowledge he had learned in class. In that era, when talents were scarce, no one had any experience and they all had to learn by themselves. “I’m good at self-learning. I’m a super scholar!” Tan Zhu joked, then said humbly, “My ability for self-learning was actually just above average, but it was thought to be very good by others. I was not very good at examinations and didn’t take them seriously, but I was good at digesting knowledge.” He used his postgraduate examinations as an example. He failed to study a certain subject, only to discover that he had misread the books when he took part in the examination. He was stunned, but he had fortunately read some related knowledge in other books, so he finally obtained good grades in that subject.
Two or three years later, Tan Zhu became the technical chief in that field. Over ten years later, every time he talks about his past experiences, he always says emotionally, “I am very grateful to Huawei. I was given such a rare chance to be engaged in the most important core technology when I was just a graduate. Huawei now has more than 100,000 staff members, among which the experienced ones teach the inexperienced ones, which is very different. But for a long time, the latter could only explore on the edge by themselves.”
When he resigned from Huawei in 2012, Tan Zhu was the CSO of Huawei Radio. On the reason for his resignation, he once wrote, ‘I suddenly found that I was almost 40 years old, but what I cared most about was my work, not my family at all. I was even away on a business trip when my wife gave birth to our baby. Recalling the past 15 years, I have lost a great deal despite the exceptional achievements and rewards of my career. At the critical moment, I didn’t need a super computer to make that decision.” At that time, he was sitting on the toilet thinking about the matters of the company when he received a call from his wife. Her doctor had told her that she would have to undergo surgery, and that she might have cancer. That was when he decided to resign. Later on, he came to two conclusions: first, doctors are good at stretching the truth; and second, one will think about their life deeply only under significant stimulation from the outside world. He couldn’t lose his foundation while working like a dog. He was suddenly enlightened by many common truths, so he finally returned to life from work.
His first aim was to lose weight. Obesity not only affected his personal image, but also led to many negative impacts on his health leading to a sub-health state, so he had to make a change. He had seen a colleague lose weight by means of diet control without any exercise, but then gain it back, and he knew that being busy was just an excuse. As such, he finally practiced the simplest way: diet control and exercise. Tan Zhu, who had never formed a habit of exercising or passed a PE examination, successfully finished his first marathon in July 2014, with his best result of 3 hours and 27 minutes listed in the top 5% of the participants. Next, he set goals step by step and began to participate in other challenges including cross-country racing, triathlons and other endurance exercises. Finally, his weight decreased to 70kg. However, his colleague never had a chance to see his change because they now lived in different worlds. He casually gave full play to the high level a super scholar was supposed to operate at, and surprised everybody. When his body became lighter, his soul pursued freedom.
One will think about their life deeply only under significant stimulationfrom the outside world. He couldn’t lose his foundation while working like a dog. He was suddenly enlightened by many common truths, so he finally returned to life from work.
Dreamer – Fulfilling dreams along his way
Relations must exist between everything, like the digestion of knowledge. Without his working experiences in Huawei, Tan Zhu would probably not have been so close to his dream. During the five years from 2006 to 2010, he often went on business trips to different countries as he was in charge of the market in Europe. He had to buy a new SIM card in each new country for the purposes of communication, and this was the most difficult problem for him. One time, he wanted to send an email, so he had to start international roaming. Unexpectedly, the computer began to autoupdate when he started, and by the time he had downloaded all the necessary software and sent the email, he found that he had to pay more than 300 Euros, which is equal to more than RMB 3,000. Tan Zhu felt very bad about this, and he remembered the incident for a long time.
Afterwards, when he learned that a certain product could solve the issue and realize the service of ‘no global roaming’, he and his partners joined together in 2013 to invest in the GlocalMe international roaming product on the basis of his views on the communications industry, and in the hopes of bringing benefits to every mobile phone user. In August 2016, the MVNO Summit 2016 was held in Beijing, gathering the elite of the MVNO industry and giants in the industrial chain to discuss specific industrial development and operation modes for the future. At the summit, Tan Zhu made a speech entitled ‘To Survive in the Tough Global Virtual Environment’.
Tan Zhu believes that the MVNO environment has gone through an epoch-making change despite few changes to its business mode. In the past, the phone number was clearly a person’s identification mark. People could apply for a SIM card with their ID cards and then maintain their social relationships. But now the phone number is no longer so important. People don’t have to exchange their phone numbers, because they usually exchange their WeChat IDs instead. As such, phone numbers are not very important for customers with a demand for phone traffic. As he is committed to researching the technical equipment of communication, and has witnessed the process of manufacturers from the death struggle to leaving the market, he feels deeply that the industry cannot go on developing without competition. MVNO now has a vertical mode without effective competition which has led to market segmentation, leaving customers with limited options. Tan Zhu thinks that people’s mobile phones are not free because they have to sign contracts with the operators to become ‘contracted users’ and use the designated network. “But people never have to become contracted users and eat the Thai fragrant rice fromthe rice store of a certain brand, because they need to retain their own free options anytime as far as possible, which are made in their hearts and conform with humanity,” he explained in simple terms.
Today, China has already granted 42 MVNO licenses, and the industry is competitive and vigorous enough to create new services. Tan Zhu showed us a blueprint in which a user only needs to decide which operator provides services when starting their mobile phone. “I can decide which operator can offer services according to the network in the air, and I don’t have to search for the network of a certain operator with a SIM card palmed on me,” he said. “I can decide the SIM card in turn. I can choose a better or cheaper one according to my demands. For example, when I arrive in Thailand and find the AIS network here, I can use a local AIS card without any roaming fee, which is much cheaper than international roaming. Thus, the convenient demand for surfing the Internet in 108 countries and regions is actually satisfied.” This kind of innovation mode is more consistent with commercial logic without any limitation to a single operator. Only in such a casecan marketing and production be separated. Such a mode is a revolutionary innovation of the industry for both customers and MVNOs.
At present, the GlocalMe international roaming product is the only commercial 4G SIM-free roaming product of a single scale in the world. It is greatly supported by its attractive and reliable services. Over 100,000 customers use this product every day. Generally speaking, a family can rent one product jointly, which is very convenient to carry. The data is displayed on the GlocalMe platform in real time. The customer base is large, especially in Europe. During the summer holidays, for example, when many people choose a long distance trip or take a trip to Europe, such Chinese rental companies as Avis are still using the G1first-generation version of GlocalMe. “When you want to rent a car from some rental company, you may be asked whether you need the product. When you take a trip abroad, you’re much more likely to rent our products in Ctrip and Taobao, or through travel agencies. Now we focus on rental, and next we will promote sales,” Tan Zhu explained. GlocalMe’s second-generation product U2recentlyappeared on the market, and is expected to be built into mobile phones by the end of the year. Through cooperation with mobile phone manufacturers, the base software will be modified. With the software of GlocalMe’s international roaming product, perhaps in the future every mobile phone will have built-in data traffic, without any differentiation betweenoperators.
When asked about the current plan, Tan Zhu always answers, “Pursuing freedom.” However, many people cannot understand his answer. People can easily understand GlocalMe’s international roaming product, but Tan Zhu thinks that he is not engaged in international roaming products, but ‘freedom’. When you see the step-by-step development of GlocalMe, perhaps you will finally understand that freedom is his real ideal.
Philosopher – Pursuing freedom along his way
The company’s development speed has increased by 15 times in the year or so since the new product was launched at the end of September 2015. The product has received great sales and a positive response by virtue of its high speed and ability to be networked anywhere. Tan Zhu and his partners have many development platforms on which many people monitor real-time data using conditions and other network situations. “Simply speaking, we carry out network quality monitoring; and technically speaking, we set up a customer experience management process supported by our technical and corresponding teams in order to achieve a better customer experience,” Tan Zhu said. They only had several to several dozen staff members at the beginning, but now uCloudlink has developed into a company that boasts more than 400 staff members, with its headquarters in Hong Kong which is responsible for the market, and its branch in Shenzhen focusing on research & development and operation.
However, Tan Zhu said frankly that the company is still under development. The company is a mixed cultural entity in which not everyone pursues excellence. Employees like him who once worked in strong teams like Huawei focus more on product quality and try their best to make their products reach a high quality level at any cost. “It’s lucky that our team has proven to be very reliable.” he said, then smiled broadly. In spite of the different opinions, the people in the company have great unity and strong mutual capability complementarity. The team boasts professionals in the industry, most of whom studied abroad, so they don’t have to worry about the foreign market. From Tan Zhu’s words, this reporter felt confidence. He also said they would keep up such a pace to go forward and never stop.
This is the philosophy he has realized from running: “When you have a long-range goal, you have to focus on your pace. It isn’t bad if you can’t run fast. Sometimes, you need to control your pace specifically; you can’t just rush forward impetuously because you’re running. If you’re anxious to sprint, you might fall down halfway due to arrhythmia. Some runners have fallen or even died halfway through a marathon because they were over-excited. So you must keep a calm mind, but you can’t slow down. If you feel miserable and want to stop running and walk for a while, you’ll become more tired and you won’t be able to reach the end point. You’ll have to give up because you ran too fast instead of slowing down. We all hope to approach our goals rapidly, but the key is to make efforts and never give up.”
Finally, when asked about his spare time life in ordinary times, Tan Zhu said he puts exercise into his daily schedule additionally and keeps a simple life of work, family and exercise, just as he did when he was an IT man. But fortunately, the image of an IT elite is gradually clearing by following his traces. After earning great physical freedom, he is closer to nature and has a broader mind, enabling him to lead his team to make greater contributions to himself and society.