China's Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., one of the world's largest telecommunications equipment companies, is opening up an office in BlackBerry Ltd.'s hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo – and hiring former employees of the struggling Canadian tech firm to help it beef up on mobile security.
Huawei, which is based in Shenzhen and sells everything from mobile phones and tablets to routers and cellular antennas, is looking to hire engineers in Kitchener, Ont., the heart of Ontario's technology-hub.
Although Huawei said no formal decisions had been made, a source told The Globe and Mail that Huawei was planning to open an office in Kitchener – and that it would be headed by Scott Totzke, who retired from BlackBerry as senior vice-president, BlackBerry Security, in June of last year.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Totzke joined Huawei as a senior vice-president for device and enterprise security, a position that is based in Kitchener.
The Chinese firm would be following other global tech firms, such as Google Inc., by opening up a Kitchener-Waterloo office in order to tap into the engineering talent that has developed around the University of Waterloo's famed engineering program – and around BlackBerry itself.
According to online job postings, Huawei is looking to hire numerous engineers in the area to focus on security software for mobile devices and "enterprise security" for businesses. Those skills were at the center of BlackBerry's global rise selling mobile devices and secure services to businesses – and also lay at the core of BlackBerry CEO John Chen's turnaround strategy, as he refocuses the company on providing secure mobile services to security-conscious businesses.
BlackBerry has laid off thousands of highly-skilled staff, mainly in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, as it lost market share to Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Android devices – and Huawei might be seeking to capitalize on that by scooping up talent on BlackBerry's home turf. Online job postings make it clear Huawei is looking to hire security researchers, senior software security engineers, a development director and a research director, as well as sales staff, in Kitchener, though it is unclear whether mobile security will be the office's only function
Mr. Totzke's LinkedIn bio, however, says that he was central to BlackBerry's security initiatives.
"Throughout the last decade, I have worked to advance RIM's approach to product security," he wrote in his career summary. "My team established the fundamental processes that have enabled security to be RIM's single biggest differentiator in the mobile smartphone and tablet markets."
Huawei, despite a rapid global expansion across vast swathes of Asia, Africa and South America, frequently raises suspicions and fears in North America that it is linked to the Chinese state – allegations it always denies. The Globe and Mail previously reported that Ottawa signalled to the company that it would be blocked from bidding on a government telecommunications and email network, and mobile operators in Canada that use its equipment have had their physical network infrastructure examined by Canadian intelligence agents. The U.S. Congress has also flagged Huawei – and China's other telecom equipment behemoth, ZTE Corp. – as potential security threats. The company's founder, Ren Zhengfei, was previously a member of China's People's Liberation Army. But his company has gone onto global commercial success and has opened up offices around the world – the Canadian headquarters are in Markham, Ont. – and Mr. Ren just appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Huawei Canada, which has already pledged to create 250 new R&D jobs in Canada over the next five years, said it had yet to make a decision about an office in Kitchener.
"At this point in time, no formal decisions have been made with regards to further expansion of our R&D operations in the province of Ontario beyond the initial announcement of hiring 250 people over the next 5 years," said Huawei Canada spokesman Scott Bradley.