Every day is kind of a mountain climb
Preh Group

»Every day is kind of a mountain climb«

Zhengxin »Charlie« Cai
CEO, Preh Group
Zhengxin »Charlie« Cai is the CEO of Preh Group, an automotive supplier specialized in control systems for the car interior and e-mobility components. Nearly everybody uses Preh controls, such as an iDrive Touch controller on the center console of a BMW or a switch in the steering wheel of a Mercedes-Benz car or a climate control panel for an Audi. And who enjoys the 800V booster technology for Porsche’s Taycan superfast charging – guess what, there is Preh’s booster-converter inside.

Charlie Cai sees Preh as a typical German company – well, and he, as its CEO, is everything else than typical German. But how come he relocated from Shanghai, a metropolis of 26 million people, to the cozy, green and rural Bad Neustadt an der Saale with just 16,000 inhabitants, located about 70 kilometers north of Würzburg in the Rhön Mountains?

Charlie Cai explains: I was born in the mega-metropolis Shanghai. At the time Preh and Joyson formed their joint venture at Joyson’s headquarters in Ningbo I became the general Manager of it. After the takeover of Preh Group by Joyson I joined the management board at Preh’s headquarters in Germany. Today, after 13 years of living and working here and having become the father of a son and a daughter, I have to admit that although my children are just in school, they speak a better German than me.
Preh has 10 locations on 3 continents and our corporate language is English, but when things get complicated, the »Rhöners« quickly return to German. I took German lessons at the beginning, but my job as Chief Operating Officer at the time left me hardly any time for it during our rapid international growth.And I’ll be honest: Communicating in English simply felt better because it happens at eye level, as English is a second language for everyone here.
Every day is kind of a mountain climb
My first son was born in Bad Neustadt, but for all my love of the beautiful nature in the Rhön, from a family point of view my later move to the university city of Würzburg was a good decision. This is where my daughter was born. For the family, the environment is simply a bit more international and private life is just more private than in a small town. There are also stores to stock up on typical Asian food.
Once a year, I go to the Alps with a mountain guide to climb a 4,000-meter peak. This clears my head, gives me strength and new ideas. As small as you feel on the face of a 4,000-meter mountain and as great when you stand at the top – as the creator and forger of your own happiness, entirely under your own steam – there are similarly demanding paths to great goals in business. In Germany, people plan far and carefully ahead, whereas in China they tend to be more spontaneous and flexible. Both qualities are strengths when applied at the right time and in the right place. And that is precisely where the art lies – looking ahead without freezing in a plan once it has been made, as well as being agile and flexible without simply plunging into an adventure, but always with a certain foresight.
So, if you succeed to employ leaders who can transmit a spark of their own fire to others, success becomes almost inevitable.
And foresight, as well as the right assessment of your own strength and resources, is something the mountains teach you uncompromisingly. In the mountains nothing is for sure. Some slight changes bring about a whole different situation. Weather changes quickly and in a matter of some minutes a nice warm rock can turn into a piece of ice. Above 3,500 meters breathing is harder, because the air has less oxygen and sometimes the wind can be so strong that the moment you take the next step and pull your walking stick out of the snow the wind blows it from the vertical to a horizontal position. Being exhausted is dangerous, as the ridge that leads to the peak is often not more than just one meter wide.
To the Alps I go just together with my same personal mountain guide since seven years now. Five times I made it all the way to the peak. However, the last two hours of a climb are no fun at all, just pure fighting with yourself, because it is physically extremely demanding and every step hurts. But when I finally stand on the peak – all of this is completely forgotten and gives way to an amazing feeling of achievement.
One time the weather had changed so quickly that we had to turn around and give it up for the sake of safety just 300m before the top. Well, I can live with this – there is nothing you can do about the weather. But the second time I could not make it was very painful. I still today feel that moment of disappointment, because the second time I badly wanted to do the climb, but my guide watched me being slower than average and it was him who took the decision for me: »No, this time you cannot make it – we need to return«. You know, you invest your little vacation time, everything is planned, and you look very much forward to it and finally it is your own missing fitness that ruins it all. This is very hard to accept. But it is also a learning experience.
Every day is kind of a mountain climb
So, if the mountains are a teacher – what did I learn so far? I have experienced that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and that there is almost nothing that can stop me – but sometimes I must stop and revise my decisions for a good reason.
Also, I am convinced that although you need bright minds in your company’s management positions there is something more important than being super-smart: It is that kind of self-motivation which allows to work through every obstacle, this flame of enthusiasm burning inside which allows to transmit a spark of inspiration rather than the feelings of personal frustration, which inevitably occur in many processes we are going through. So, if you succeed to employ leaders who can transmit a spark of their own fire to others, success becomes almost inevitable.
Is it rather a burden or an advantage to come from a different culture? Well, a broad cultural experience is clearly an advantage, but if you ask me how it feels to live in a very different culture and work in the role of the CEO, I would like to put it this way: Every day is a kind of mountain climb. And I like it, it just makes me feel alive.
Dr. Wolfgang Eckelt, High Performance | Top Company Guide