Ray Young’s fortunes took a steep fall when GM declared bankruptcy in June of 2009 at the height of the Great Recession.
At 47, the boy-wonder CFO had intimately linked his fortunes with the world’s biggest carmaker, having joined the firm in 1986 when he was fresh out of an obscure Candian business college. His rise to the top of the finance side of a company that collapsed after groaning for years under the weight of onerous labor contracts and diminishing market share led to the inevitable shakeup at the top. At the end of 2009 Young was sent to Shanghai to the newly created position of VP of International Operations. Many saw that as a form of exile that would put Young’s career on the skids.
Instead Young surfaced back in the States in October of 2010 as a senior vice president of Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s biggest agribusinesses. It took less than two months for him to be promoted to CFO. With that promotion Ray Young had re-established himself as the boy wonder of corporate finance.
The fast-track seems to have been Young’s path since his family immigrated to Canada from Guangzhou, China. In high school he set academic records which have yet to be broken. Between studies and helping parents at their restaurant, dates were scarce. Passing up admissions from top universities, he chose the University of Western Ontario for its business program, considered Canada’s best. Upon graduation Young rejected tempting job offers to attend business school at the University of Chicago.
With an MBA in hand, Young turned down many high-salaried positions at banks and investment firms to start as an entry-level financial analyst for GM in 1986. His goals required that he work for a large corporation. The gamble paid off within two years when he was promoted and transferred to GM’s financial headquarters in New York.
“I often worked until 2 in the morning,” Young recalls of those early years, “because I worried that if I slowed down a pace, I’d fall behind.”
Four years later, Young was rewarded again with a promotion to director of capital markets and foreign exchange services. A year later, at the age of 31, he was sent to Belgium to become treasurer for GM Europe. Three years later, he was named vice president of finances for CAMI, a Canadian joint venture between GM and Suzuki. In 1998 Young was tapped to serve as GM’s liaison at Suzuki, a company in which GM had taken a 10% stake as part of its strategy to build its Asia-Pacific presence. It was a sensitive post that challenged and proved out Young’s interpersonal skills.
In 2001 Young was rewarded with the post of GM North America’s vice president and chief financial officer, along with a seat on the North American Strategy Board. At 39, Young was the youngest executive ever to control the financial strategy of the $120 billion giant. It required overseeing a staff of 1,000 finance professionals. In less than three years Young was named President and Managing Director of GM do Brasil, at that time GM’s third-largest manufacturing operation.
Young attributes his remarkable success to good personal relations, networking, luck and perpetual hard work. In his free time he enjoys cooking, dining and traveling with his English-born wife.