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The art of German engineering "Made in China" - or how German managers live with Chinese spirit

We introduce: Arnim Rohns and Viktor Ungemach

New CFO at EDAG Shanghai

At 56, Westphalian-born Arnim Rohns, Dipl. Betriebswirt (business administration graduate), has gained a great deal of professional experience and wisdom in the course of the many foreign assignments he has worked on. From Chicago to Singapore and back to Chicago, where he then met his Shanghai-born wife, who was studying for her MBA degree at the University of Chicago at the time. From here, they continued to travel together – this time to New Jersey. At least for the time being, because following a stopover in Germany, a job advertisement drew Rohns' attention to the position of CFO at the EDAG office in Shanghai, which he took with effect from 1.12.2015.

For most of his career, Rohns has worked in the financial divisions of machine and plant construction companies. "It was always my aim to head the financial division of a company, and in 1999, I was able to achieve my dream. With the support of my previous mentor, I accepted the position of CFO at Coperion in Chicago." The many international assignments he worked on, both as CFO and CEO, have provided Rohns with all the know-how he needs to ideally equip him for his new position. But there is more to EDAG China's new CFO than just his affinity for figures and the cash flow within a company.

"It was very easy for me to make the decision to leave Germany and move to China. Due to the many trips to Asia that I have made over the last few years, many of which took me to Shanghai, this metropolis has become a second home to me. One of the reasons for this is the way that my wife's family have always made me welcome. I really like being here."

Shanghai – the new chinese "Silicon Valley"

The second newcomer to EDAG, who is now to manage EDAG PS in China, also made a conscious decision to move his home - and everything in it - to China. While still at university, where his main subject was "East Asian Regional Studies", Viktor Ungemach had his first points of contact with the Asian culture. The first time he experienced the spirit of change in the country - especially in the metropolitan area of Shanghai - was in 2000, when he went on a backpacking tour from Beijing to Shanghai during his semester break.

"From the very first, I really liked the city, which even then was something of a 'global arena for China', and was completely captivated by its inhabitants, with their enterprising spirit and optimism. It didn't take me long to realise that this was a place I wished to return to very soon," he reports. In 2002, there followed a practical semester abroad, which he spent in Shanghai to improve his Chinese. After graduating in 2007, he then went to Beijing to begin his new job there, working as a project manager in a Chinese-German joint venture.

During this time, Ungemach made a significant contribution to setting up the sourcing division for the major automobile OEMs. In 2012, by which time he was married, he and his Chinese wife, who had also studied in Germany and speaks fluent German, decided to spend the first years of their young son's life in Germany. As MR Plan GmbH, a company intending to establish a branch office in Shanghai, promised to be an interesting new employer for Ungemach, he joined the company as their Chinese Expert and, working from Donauwörth, first built up the branch office and then moved to Shanghai in 2014, to take on the position of CEO of the branch, in charge of its 45-strong workforce. The range of services to be handled included services similar to those today being offered by EDAG PS, and covered the fields of factory planning, project management and logistics planning. This experience will, of course, be of benefit to him in his new position of Head of Production Solutions at EDAG Engineering & Design (Shanghai) Co., Ltd, a post he has held since the beginning of 2016.

Mr. Ungemach reports from his own experience and explains that in China, German engineering brilliance is greatly valued: "In particular the quality of training in engineering in Germany is greatly valued by the Chinese. "Made in Germany" is recognised as a seal of quality in particular for the automotive sector. As a result, the German colleagues are very highly regarded." Due to the positive development at this site and the planned increase in staff, not only his technical know-how, but also his role in human resources management are of the utmost importance.

When asked whether China or Germany feels more like home to him and his family, Ungemach explained: "Due to the fact that my wife and I both speak both languages and have roots in both countries, there is no clear answer to that question. Both China and Germany offer us excellent opportunities. Today, priority is attached on account of our child, particularly when it comes to ecological conditions."

Language ability is no guarantee for understanding

Speaking from personal experience, both of our new managers can confirm that, despite their attachment to the Chinese culture, there can still be misunderstandings in communication. "Especially in the work environment, there are clear differences between the German and Chinese mentalities. In China, business relations are built on personal factors such as trust and respect. What counts in the western world is more likely to be a company's sound reputation. We therefore set great store by punctuality, precision and speed. We are particularly results-oriented, and try to leave nothing to chance. The Chinese on the other hand can set aside something that might be important to us for quite a while. I think it's the mixture that counts – by taking a combination of the two cultures, we can all profit and learn from one another," remarks Rohns.

In Chinese professional life, personal contacts, particularly outside the workplace, are a key factor in building up long-term trust. This means that people meet for dinner and discuss salaries or private investments such as the purchase of a new car. This would be fairly unusual in Germany, but is common practice in China.

Not only are there differences in what is communicated between the two cultures, but in how we communicate. Rohns explains why: "In the western world, people communicate principally by means of language. In China on the other hand, language is just one element of communication. In Germany, if we refuse or reject something we generally use a direct "No" to say so. As a rule, the Chinese avoid a direct refusal, to enable their counterpart to save face. They are far more likely to use other, kinder words and phrases or even facial expressions to get their meaning across."

What characterises our two new managers at EDAG Engineering & Design (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. is a combination of far-reaching practical experience and an understanding of the Chinese culture.

We wish Arnim Rohns and Viktor Ungemach every success in the future!