Vivian Wu Yen: The Iron Woman of Taiwan's Automobile Industry

April 10, 2007
Editor: wocm

Vivian Wu Yen: The Iron Woman of Taiwan's Automobile Industry

Date of Birth: December 1, 1913
Place of Birth: Wujin, Jiangsu province
Education: St. John's University in Shanghai, BA
                 Columbia University, MA
Experience: Founder of Tai Yuen Textile Co, Yulon Motor Co., Ltd. and. China Motor Corporation President of Yulon Group

If you asked who the richest woman was in Taiwan, people would not hesitate to say Mrs. Vivian Wu Yen, the Chairperson of Taiwan Yulon Group. Yulon Group, with business ranging from automobile to textile and architecture, has continuously ranked as one of the Top 10 companies in Taiwan. Moreover, it topped the Taiwan Taxpayers List in 1985 and was number 5 on the Top 100 Taiwan big companies with 66.46 billion New Taiwan Dollar (NTD) turnover in1991. Tai Yuen Textile Co., which she began, is the biggest textile entity in Taiwan.  As an overseas graduate who used to be a college teacher who wrote books and lectured, Wu was not prepared to do business at first. Afterwards, the need to revitalize industry pushed her into the business world. She began in the automobile industry after her husband died, and then Yulon Motor Co. launched Feeling 101, the first car designed and developed in Taiwan in 1986. She, who was honored as the “Automobile Queen” and "Textile Queen", has become a legend in Taiwan's commercial and industrial world.

On December 15, 1913, Wu was born in a textile family in Wujin county, Jiangsu province. Her father was not only a textile entrepreneur, but also the founder of Zhong Hua Books Co. She loved reading as a little girl. When she was a middle school student, she was able to read various books published by Zhong Hua Books Co. Most people in her family thought that she would be a scholar or a professor in the future, not an industrial bigwig.
She graduated from Shanghai Methodist Girls' High School and even though imbued with a modern sense, she had an arranged marriage to Mr. Tjing-Ling Yen. The marriage was actually a combination of love and piety. In their marriage, they helped each other's careers and supported each other in life. When Mr. Tjing-Ling Yen talked about their arranged marriage in the following decades, he said humorously: "if it were a free marriage, we would not have found such fitting companions."
Wu and her husband arrived in Taiwan in 1948. At that time, the industrial environment in Taiwan was undeveloped and the economy was not good. Taiwan had been seriously plundered during the eight year war against Japan and faced many business-operation obstacles. For example, even screws had to be imported. To revive Taiwan's industry, they went to the USA to study and returned to Taiwan in June 1952. Mr. Tjing-Ling Yen prepared to begin an automobile company and his wife Vivian Wu Yen prepared to start a textile company in 1952.

At that time, the textile company, which had been moved from Shanghai, had several old machines and nothing else After much negotiation and discussion, Wu decided to locate the textile facility in Hsinchu County, Taiwan. Though it was a remote and backward place, she was quite confident and determined to set up the biggest textile company based on 20,000 old spindles and 200 old fabric machines. "'Yuen', in Chinese means the first one. So we will name our textile company 'Tai Yuen' because it is the first in Taiwan," Wu said. Her husband stroked the table and shouted bravo. This name reflected her great ambition.

Tai Yuen was successful, as expected; its output ranked No.1 in Taiwan's textile industry due to its low cost and broad market. Wu was not satisfied with the boom within Taiwan and cast her eyes abroad, deciding that "export sales should dominate and domestic sales should be subordinate". She invested 50,000 US dollars in textile machinery from Japan and installed quality evaluation equipment to guarantee product quality. Tai Yuen was about to expand to Australia, USA, Europe, Africa, Japan and Hong Kong. Tai Yuen Textile Co. received the "gold medal for cotton yarn quality" from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, ROC, in 1962. Tai Yuen was awarded the top prize by the Taiwan Export Company for 15 successive years. She realized her dream, making Tai Yuen the biggest textile company in Taiwan with 210,000 spindles, 2,000 machines, 6,800 personnel and more than NTD 8 billion in assets. But she never stopped in expanding her textile realm. She also established Diamond Hosiery & Thread, Carnival Industries and many other entities around Tai Yuen.
While Wu was succeeding in textiles, her husband, Mr. Tjing-Ling, Yen was facing obstacles in the automobile industry. She was able to assist her husband with profits from the Tai Yuen Textile Co., contributing to the development of Taiwan’s automobile industry.

At that time (the 1950s), the automobile industry based on precision machinery was zero in Taiwan. First, Japan's colonial policy of "Taiwan developed agriculture and Japan developed industry" had a negative effect on industry in Taiwan. Second, the average yearly income of Taiwanese citizens was merely NTD2,300, so people could not afford to buy cars. Third, Taiwanese authorities only issued 50 car licenses per year, which was far below the minimum annual production 100, 000 (the minimum amount an automobile factory can produce and stay in business). Fourth, the automobile industry required costly facilities, advanced technology and high quality. However, it was impossible to mass produce cars and lower its cost in Taiwan, not to mention entering the international market.

Mr. Tjing-Ling Yen did not yield to the obstacles and persisted in working on the automobile industry. Wu believed that her husband was right.

When he met trouble and unhappiness, Wu consoled and encouraged him. Moreover, she financed the automobile company with profits fromTai Yuen Textile Co so her husband could get through hard times. "Yulon Group will not have its day without my wife," said Mr. Tjing-Ling.

After studying a discarded American jeep for 2-years Yulon Motor Co. successfully released its first jeep in 1956. In 1957, Yulon Motor Co. signed a technical cooperation agreement with America Meehanite Metal Co. to make engines and then made 10 jeeps. Then Yulon Motor Co. partnered with Willys-Motors on mass production of jeeps. Afterwards, Yulon Motor Co. partnered with Japan’s Nissan Motor Co. to produce the first truck in 1959 and then launched "Blue Bird" Sedan, the first vehicle manufactured in the country in 1960. Yulon then signed an agreement with Italian Innocenti Motor Co. to make motorcycles. Step by step, Yulon Motor had produced more than 10,000 cars by the end of 1965. If it wanted to decrease production costs, Yulon had to increase investment. However, the company had a large debt. Many people asked Mr. Tjing-Ling Yen to stop and turn to real estate, but Wu supported her husband. She transferred a large amount of money from Tai Yuen to Yulon Motor and helped it enter a new stage of development.
Yulon motor produced 16,000 cars in 1976, ranking No.1 among the 5 automobile companies in Taiwan and was listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange in 1976. Yulon Motor boomed, even the American Time Magazine proclaimed Mr. Tjing-Ling "Taiwan's Mr. Ford." Unfortunately, he had an accident and injured his head. He was diagnosed with forebrain neuronal atrophy and confined to bed for a long time. His condition was such that he could not participate in regular meetings of senior managers.

At this time, Wu took it upon herself to become managing director and Vice-President of Yulon Group. She consulted her husband when she had questions about business operations, and she hired a Japanese consultant to assist her. Her husband, the founder of Yulon Group, died on March 21, 1981. Although heartbroken, she was elected by the board of directors to be the 2nd chairperson of the company.

Many people wondered how a widow, who was nearly 70 years old, could manage such a large domestic automobile and textile conglomerate. Some people rushed to dump Yulon's stock and other automobile executives urged her to give up on Yulon Motor. "Yulon is like an antique. I know its value and I will not sell it," said Wu resolutely and decisively, when others offered to buy Yulon Motor Co.

Wu did not have time to be sad about losing her husband, but dove into her new career.

First, she invested NTD 4.5 billion in accelerating the first stage of construction of Sanyi Plant. Two months later, the first stage was completed and production began. The annual output of Sanyi Plant reached 260,000 cars per year.

Second, she invested NTD 2 billion in the Yulon Engineering Center, (promoted as the Yulon Asia Technical Center in 1998), to focus on car design in Taiwan. Furthermore, she invited Dr. Zhuxin (Aviation Engineering), the dean of the Engineering College, Taiwan National University, Taiwan, to be the director of Yulon Engineering Center. Dr. Zhuxin found another key people, Dr. Lin Shifu (Mechanics) and Dr. Zhang Zhewei(Civil Engineering), forming the "Iron Triangle" for car designs.

Under her leadership, Yulon's revenues in 1983 roared to NTD16.2 billion, ranking 4th in Taiwan's private enterprises, and had a monthly production of 15,000 cars and station wagons, accounting for 42 percent of Taiwan's automobile market.

After working for 1800 days and nights, the Yulon Engineering Center, led by Dr. Zhu Xin, finally launched a new car in April 1986, which was the first motor vehicle designed and manufactured in Taiwan. Wu was exultant and named it "Feeling".

Feeling 101's coming led to a storm, which surprised Taiwan as well as overseas automobile manufacturers. Many people named their new stores "Feeling", reflecting a sense of Taiwanese pride.

Five years later, the second generation- Feeling102-came out and entered the European market. In 1991, Yulon Engineering Center launched "New SENTRA" sedan, which was popular due to its beautiful shape and performance. Wu was worthy of the title "Automobile Queen" of Taiwan.

In the late 1990s, Wu was more than 80 years old. 40 years has passed since she and her husband started in the textiles and automobile industries in 1951.She called her son, Mr. Kenneth K.T. Yen, back to Taiwan and asked him to manage Yulon Group with her. Under the leadership of Wu and her son, Yulon Group is believed to have a promising future.
Source: / Translated by Women of China)

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