Entertainment

Shirley Young, Businesswoman and Cultural Diplomat to China, Dies at 85

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Ms. Young’s ideas weren’t the only revolutionary thing about her. At the time, most employers offered severance packages to pregnant women on the assumption that they would never return to work after giving birth. When she was expecting and insisting on her first child in 1963, Gray Advertising had to invent her first maternity policy.

The company clearly thought it was worth it. In 1983, when a global recession forced the advertising industry to cut research budgets, Gray went the other way and founded an entire research subsidiary, Gray Strategic Marketing, with Ms. Young as president. She garnered a long list of Fortune 500 customers, including General Motors whom she hired in 1988 as vice president of consumer market development.

Almost immediately, she urged her new employer to invest in China and later moved to Shanghai to oversee the development of a billion-dollar joint venture with SAIC Motor, a Chinese company, to build Buicks.

For Ms. Young, many American companies failed to see the size of the cultural differences between the two countries and the ability to bridge them. She encouraged GM to expand its executives’ contact with the Chinese language and society through education and cultural exchanges, which they would later highlight in their artistic work.

As she continued to lead GM’s expansion in Asia, she became increasingly involved in cultural and charitable causes. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Ms. Young, along with other prominent Chinese-Americans, including Yo-Yo Ma and IM Pei, founded the 100-member Committee, a group dedicated to shaping the Trans-Pacific Dialogue. She was the first chairperson, a position she also held at a spin-off organization, the US-China Cultural Institute.

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