By Samantha Sunne Herald Writer
In November, a group of OnStar employees sat hushed and expectant inside the company’s call center in Shanghai. They were waiting for the response to a message one customer had asked them to pass on to another.
It was a marriage proposal.
Diane Jurgens was in the company’s office in southern China at the time, but she heard a replay of the woman’s response, spoken from her car. The woman said yes.
“I listened to the emotional replay of that, and it’s in Chinese, and it just made me cry,” Jurgens said.
Jurgens doesn’t speak Chinese, but she’s learning. As of Jan. 1, the Everett native is the new president of Shanghai OnStar.
She wasn’t sure why the man used OnStar to communicate one of the most important decisions of his life, but she said it might have to do with the fact he relies on the satellite-based navigation and communication system for day-to-day decisions.
“It’s one of those things where you navigate all these things through your life, and it just goes well with this OnStar navigation theme,” she said. “It was pretty cool.”
OnStar is a subsidiary of General Motors that installs communication systems in GM cars and provides safety and security services to drivers. Shanghai OnStar is the company’s only branch outside of North America and is growing rapidly.
Jurgens, 49, speaks with excitement about the fledgling company’s future in a country where infrastructure can change from day to day. Advisors receive more than 3 million calls from drivers every month, most of them for navigation help.
“Cities themselves are changing almost overnight from rural areas into what we would consider towns,” Jurgens said. “So roads are constantly being added or updated or expanded.”
Jurgens herself landed in Shanghai after some twists and turns. After graduating from Everett High School, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Washington.
She worked as an engineer and later an information technology manager for the Boeing Co. while earning a second master’s in international business from Seattle University.
Her business career started with GM in Michigan, installing IT systems around the world. She took a job in China because, she said, it was an adventure and a challenge.
Jurgens has used Shanghai as a home base the past six years while traveling the world as a vice president of GM’s international operations. She said she’s looking forward to living and working in Shanghai year-round.
“The first six months or so (were) pretty rough,” she admitted. “It was a challenging transition just to learn how to do things we consider normal, daily life things.”
Now she counts cultural agility as a practiced skill. “I definitely have taken a lot of time to learn the language and the culture,” she said.
Jurgens recently returned to the Seattle area to visit family for the holidays. Her parents, Keane and Connie Enberg, moved to Mukilteo after living in Everett for 40 years, where Keane was a police officer.
This year was the one of many when the whole family gets together, including daughter Taylor and son Nick, who both go to college in the U.S.
“My mom and dad obviously want us to move back here sooner rather than later,” she said, but Jurgens and her husband, Peter, will be in China at least another few years because of her new job.
“We’ve adapted well,” she said. “Shanghai is a great city.”