Theirs is a typical Chinese household focused on learning. There is a piano and piano lessons for the children. Dr. Zheng plays chess (a traditional Chinese pastime) with his eldest son. The mother, who herself studied business administration in Germany and who enjoys playing the accordion ever since, now dedicates herself exclusively to her family. She organizes their daily life, supervises homework, limits computer access, encourages them to participate in regular sports activities, and also functions as family finance minister.
In any case, Hengda (7) and Hengli (11) are to have the best possible opportunities for a golden future and, as their mother Cuiyun Wu points out, this includes »not only a certain discipline but, above all, the best possible education.« That is also something that Shanghai is known for: classes are small, the teachers are excellent, and the universities are considered among the best in the country.
Zhenjiang is different. Small by Chinese standards with only three million inhabitants, but no less dynamic. It is a fast-growing, prosperous manufacturing location with a state-of-the-art chemical industrial park. The production facilities of some big international companies are concentrated in an area of no less than twenty square kilometers. Clariant is one of them.
The »multi-purpose plant« inaugurated in 2009 for the manufacture of over 100 products for Industrial & Consumer Specialties, Oil & Mining Services and Textile Chemicals, is less than two hundred meters from the wide Yangtze River (Chang Jiang). A new container port is currently being built there, and its massive loading bridges greet Dr. Zheng first thing in the morning as he makes his way to the office. Being the first person at work is a matter of course for him. He goes on to say that »When there is a problem, then it is first and foremost my problem, as I am the manager.«
He manages the plant in a cooperative yet firm manner. »Consensus is important. I always try to reach it in dialogue with my employees, for as we say in China: three individuals together equal one genius. If there are still differences, however, then I decide.«
This may sound easy but requires a high level of personal commitment from him. He shows this not only at the weekly table tennis and basketball games with his colleagues but in general. And it also requires a high degree of tolerance and concern. In turn, all of these efforts create an excellent working atmosphere. Of course, you have to make this a credible part of daily life, but that is his goal. »During my time in Europe I learned a lot about getting along with people,« says Qinglin Zheng. »Things like loyalty and esteem really count. They are part of our corporate culture at Clariant, and for my people they set Clariant apart from its competitors.« And this explains why he is in high demand for discussions with the local government officials of the Zhenjiang New Area, where both his foreign experience and his modern management style are welcome. The company’s Family Day also fits in this picture. It is Sunday and the flags are flying at the entrance gate to welcome 43 employees, their wives and husbands, their parents and their children. The first event of its type, it is hoped it will become a tradition and is intended to be an ongoing initiative, as Dr. Zheng explains. It will create identity, inform people in detail about working, environmental and safety conditions, and contribute to a better understanding of the chemical industry. And it is designed to »honor family members for their cooperation and understanding when it is necessary to work overtime, for example.«
Needless to say, his own family is also here. They arrived together from Shanghai the previous evening, traveling as always at lightning speed (300 km/h or 200 mph) on the CRH380A high-speed train. The train’s streamlined driving unit looks more like a rocket than a rail vehicle and needs only one hour and eighteen minutes for the 260-kilometer trip. Now it’s all eyes on Dr. Zheng as he delivers his speech. A speech meant to be more than simply a polite welcome. A speech, as he describes it, »that will bring new knowledge to my colleagues.« That is his goal.
»Everything has its history.« These are his opening words, before launching into his speech, touching on a wide range of topics. He tells the men and their wives and children about the development of the chemical industry in Europe and about the creation and growth of Clariant. He also tells them about its philosophy, its values, and its stated objectives. And he ends with these words: »Compared with the 1.35 billion people in our country, we are only a small universe at Clariant with our 21,000 employees. But this is what I think is significant: each one of us is very important for the whole, particularly as regards our diligence, our efforts, and our energy and drive. I always say that I am proud to be a part of Clariant as well as a part of our economic and technological development here in China. I hope you feel the same way.«
Encore. We travel together with Qinglin Zheng to the Fujian Province, where we visit the hamlet of Gaokeng at the foot of the Dragon Mountains and take a look at the area that was once his home. Even here much has changed, but there are still signs of the old days that do not fail to move him and us. There are former neighbors who are still living a typical peasant existence. School mates who work in the rice field day in, day out. A teacher greets him and he embraces the man, who is now old. The man once stood before him, a schoolboy, and said, »You must work hard, and then you, too, will be able to afford a pair of real shoes some day.«
We visit his father’s grave. He died at the early age of 65. »I arrived two hours too late since I was living in Beijing at the time and the train trip took 48 hours. He took opium so that he could hang on and see me, but I did not make it in time.«
His mother, on the other hand, is still alive. She just turned 80 and lives with her firstborn son, as is Chinese custom. »Eldest brother« is how Qinglin Zheng addresses him, and has a great deal of respect for him. He has managed to achieve a modest degree of prosperity and – like the next son – owns three clothing stores in the provincial town of Longjing.
A family reunion is arranged and everybody meets at a large round table in a restaurant. Brother number four travels to the town specifically for this occasion. He is a party member and mayor of a city of around 300,000 inhabitants, where a German truck manufacturer plans a big investment in a joint venture with a Chinese company. Also present is Qinglin Zheng’s sister, who was acquired in exchange for the seventh son. She is attractive and still quite young. »Only our third-eldest brother is missing,« says Qinglin. »I call him our high flyer. As a top executive he has made his fortune and is off traveling somewhere on the planet right now as we speak.«
They sit around the table with their mother in the middle. They then stand up and toast one another with the words of the Chinese philosopher Laozi, which sounds like both a family motto and a company slogan: »Only who knows where they are going will find their way.« To the horizon. And beyond.