Landing in Lansing: Shirley Saylor

Moving to a new city can be a challenge, but what about a new country? Or how about a whole new continent on the other side of the world?

Just ask Shirley Saylor, who moved to the Lansing area from China in November 2008.

Saylor, who visited 41 cities in China during her career, as well as cities in Europe, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and Korea, is hard pressed to find Lansing’s equal.

“I can’t find a city totally like Lansing—it’s unique,” she says.

Saylor’s also lived in Germany and Grand Rapids. While she was working in Grand Rapids, she was offered a job in California, but turned it down.

“I chose Lansing over California,” she says. But she didn’t just choose Lansing over California. She chose it over two other continents and one of the U.S.’s most sought after states.
Globe Hopping

“I am a very international person,” says Saylor, who was born in the northwestern Chinese city of Ürümqi. Saylor lived in Ürümqi until she was 16, when her family moved to one of China’s largest cities, Guangzhou; she stayed there for another 20 years.

During her time in Guangzhou, Saylor worked for retail companies that had her living in different parts of China and in different countries. She lived and worked in Germany for three years.

When she arrived in Michigan, the late fall weather reminded Saylor of her hometown of Guangzhou, which she still loves. “Did I choose the wrong place?” she joked. But that feeling quickly changed once spring and summer arrived.

“I am totally falling in love with the city," she says.

While her many activities, including working with the St. Johns Kiwanis, keep her busy, Saylor recently found a new job.

She is now the marketing partner and vice president of Blackstone USA, a Netherlands-based footwear company. Saylor was offered the job after helping Blackstone set up their United States and Asian markets as a consultant. The company owner and its U.S. investor visited Lansing recently. After two days of discussion, Saylor was convinced to take the job.

“It is wonderful I can stay in Lansing, working with the USA team,” she says.

Finding Home

Saylor’s initial reason for coming to Michigan was simple. “I met my husband in Grand Rapids,” she says.

Saylor was working for a footwear retailer, one of the largest in China, at the time, and traveled to Grand Rapids four times a year for a global conference.

“I wanted to find a Michigan person [to marry], because I love Michigan,” she says.

While in Grand Rapids for a visit, a friend introduced Saylor to her future husband, Stephen. The pair made the long-distance relationship work, staying in touch via email and occasional visits.

“I traveled to the United States four times and he traveled to China several times . . . for about two years,” she says.

Eventually, they had to decide where to live. Stephen preferred the open spaces of Michigan to the close quarters of Guangzhou.

Saylor, seeing the potential of Lansing and enjoying the area, agreed to move to St. Johns.

A Blooming Flower

Saylor’s compares Lansing to a flower waiting to bloom. “I see the opportunity,” she says.

Saylor would like to see Lansing become a Michigan retail destination. After a recent visit to Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, she thinks Lansing’s retail sector could benefit from some tweaking.

“I think Lansing needs a very experienced person to organize all of the retail to create a good retail atmosphere. I dream one day of people driving to Lansing for shopping.”

Saylor also hopes Lansing will make other strides to stand out from surrounding cities.

“Lansing needs a really good boutique hotel.

Boutique hotels cater to smaller amounts of guests and are fixtures of big cities such as New York. These hotels are not part of a chain and each are unique in their own way, some having specialty stores or restaurants in the same building. Saylor would like to see the old Knapp’s Building downtown utilized in such a way.

One of the aspects Saylor most enjoys about Michigan is the uniqueness among area cities and towns.
“Around the Lansing area, they have a different feeling about each town," she says. DeWitt, St. John, Ovid, Mason, or Bath – even East Lansing. They are very unique.”

But the changing cultures never made her feel out of place.

“I don’t think I’m a newcomer," she says. I feel welcomed . . . and at home.”

Exploring Home

Saylor is eager to experience everything in Lansing, including its culture and business climate. Saylor is involved with Grand River Connection, a professional networking group.

“I contacted them and said, ‘What can I do for you guys?’” She appreciated the group’s enthusiasm to help her acclimate to the city. “They gave me a lot of help. They (the young people in the city) have a great hope in their mind for the city.”

Saylor has brought her love of bike riding to Michigan, and joined the Tri-County Bicycle Association. “I meet lots of new bikers,” she says. During one of Saylor’s first rides with the group, she made friends with a fellow rider. “On the road she was just like [a] tour guide,” pointing at different landmarks along the route.

Next year, Saylor plans on taking part in a ride from Michigan State University (MSU) all the way to Mackinac Island.

Saylor says that in her experience, people living in cities like New York live there because they’re solely focused on making money. But in Lansing, she says, “People live here because they like living here.”

Saylor has invited her family to visit from China next summer, and is eager to show them just how much she loves Lansing and Michigan.

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Daniel J. Hogan is a freelance writer and creator of the Magic of Eyri Podcast. You can listen to his audio book podcast for free here

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Shirley Saylor with business books from China, Blackstone USA's product brochure, and her husband Stephen.

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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