Shirley Young, player in expanding GM China, dies at 85

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Shirley Young, an executive who played an instrumental role in General Motors’ expansion in China during the 1990s, died Dec. 26. She was 85.

Young helped steer GM’s billion-dollar investment in China through a joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

She died of complications from breast cancer, David Hsieh, one of her sons, told The New York Times.

While rising to become a top executive at Grey Advertising, Young, who had a degree in economics from Wellesley, challenged convention that successful marketing was driven only by gut instincts. She pushed the major agency to invest in quantitative market research, a standard operating practice today but one that emerged and gained prominence starting in the 1960s.

GM recruited Young in June 1988 from Grey Strategic Marketing, where she was president, according to media reports. At Grey Strategic Marketing, she consulted GM across its operating divisions and staffs. GM hired Young as vice president for consumer market development.

Young was born in Shanghai in 1935 and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 10 years old. Her father was a Chinese diplomat who was executed in Manila during World War II.

Young urged GM to invest in China and later moved to Shanghai to oversee development of GM’s joint venture with SAIC Motor to build Buicks, one of the most popular American brands in the country.

Young left GM in 1999 to open a consulting firm and went on to join the boards of many corporations and cultural organizations, such as Bank of America, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. She also was a senior adviser to General Motors-Asia Pacific. In 1980, before joining GM, she was vice chairman of the nominating committee of the New York Stock Exchange.

“Forward-looking companies want strong boards of a diversified nature,” she told The New York Times in 1983, “and women are no longer just filling spots.”

GM has multiple joint ventures in China with more than 58,000 employees. With its joint venture partners, GM sells vehicles under the Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Baojun and Wuling brands in China.

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Saurabh Shukla

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