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The South African who is almost Shanghainese

By Lin Shujuan in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-28 07:24
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David Preston, chairman and chief executive officer of Boehringer Ingelheim in China. [Photo by Gao Erqiang / China Daily]

Editor's note: The Honorable Citizen of Shanghai Award is the highest tier in the Magnolia Awards which are presented to foreigners who have made significant contributions to the city's development. Named after the city's flower, the Shanghai Magnolia Awards have been given out annually since 1989 and is among the highest honors a foreigner can receive in the city.

After living in Shanghai for 21 years, David Preston can now consider himself to be more of a Shanghainese than an expatriate.

On Sept 30, the South African was conferred the Honorable Citizen of Shanghai Award, the highest tier in the prestigious Magnolia Award that the local government can present to foreigners in recognition of their contributions to the city's social and economic development.

The Magnolia Awards have been presented annually since 1989. There are three categories: Magnolia Silver, Magnolia Gold and Honorable Citizen of Shanghai.

Preston, who is the chairman and chief executive officer of Boehringer Ingelheim in China, had previously won the Silver and Gold awards in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

Like many expatriates, Preston came to China for business. He ended up falling in love with a Chinese woman and starting a family with her. The couple have two daughters, Caitlin, 6, and Charlotte, 2.

Before taking the helm of Boehringer Ingelheim's China operations in 2009, Preston worked for Xian-Janssen, the US-headquartered pharmaceutical maker's China joint venture, and French-based Sanofi-Aventis.

He lived in Xi'an, Shaanxi province and Beijing before settling down in Shanghai in 1996 when Sanofi allowed him to choose a city to set up its China office. Preston said he chose Shanghai largely because of the city's pool of quality local talent that comprised many returnees who studied overseas.

Born to two English parents in Cape Town in South Africa, Preston said he had always desired to be in an industry where he could work in foreign countries and be exposed to different cultures. After graduating with a degree in business and commerce, he joined the pharmaceutical industry as he believed it would provide him with the opportunity to see the world.

Preston was right. He was posted to Belgium not long after he started his career and worked in that country till 1992 when an opportunity in China came up.

"China was opening-up and I thought that it would become extremely open one day. I knew it was the right time to go to China," he recalled.

More than two decades later, Preston said that he is still intrigued at how his adopted country is still in its "golden phase".

"You always feel that there's something new and exciting that's happening. And when it happens, it is so quick," said Preston, snapping his fingers as he cited examples of innovation such as Mobike, the world's first dockless and cash-free bike sharing platform.

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