Have you ever wondered who’s behind some of the most indelible vehicle designs in the auto industry, particular at General Motors? Are you feeling the new vibe at Cadillac or the aggressive sportiness of Buick? Are cognitive concepts with the potential of manifestation in favor with your outlook? Well, look no further as we explore the insightful philosophies and behind the scenes views of a design mastermind.
Name and Title: Ed Welburn, Vice President – Global Design, General Motors.
Describe what your company does (just a couple of lines are fine): We are responsible for the design development of all GM brands globally. This includes product and concept car design, brand character, photography, auto show displays and dealer facilities. Our studios are located in Detroit, North Hollywood, Germany, Korea, India, Australia, Brazil and two locations in China.
How did you break into this business? I started drawing cars and reading car magazines when I was very young. At the age of eleven, I wrote a letter to GM Design saying that I wanted to be a car designer. They wrote back, and recommended the steps I needed to take to achieve my dream. Based on that, I attended Howard University, studied sculpture and product design, and earned a degree in Fine Arts. I also interned at GM Design, where I was eventually was hired in 1972 as an associate designer assigned to the advanced design studios.
What would you say is your “claim to fame”, such as have you worked on any projects that the public might be familiar with or that you are particularly proud of? I’m particularly proud of the fact that I led the development of a true ‘global design’ organization at GM. I’d also have to say developing a “global face” for Chevrolet, establishing GM’s concept car strategy, and building a solid relationship with our partners in China. Of the vehicles that I’m most proud of over the years, these would include:
- Oldsmobile Aerotech (high-speed research vehicle)
- Autonomy (fuel cell concept car)
- Chevrolet Camaro
- Cadillac CTS Coupe
- Buick LaCrosse
- Opel Insignia
What are you working on currently, or have coming up (insert shameless plug here)? We’re continuing to grow the capability of Global Design, working to develop the next generation of Cadillacs, designing the all-new Chevrolet Corvette…basically we are working on the next generation of everything at GM!
Words to live by/your mantra? In whatever you do in life, you must have a clear vision. Also, be honest with everyone…and most importantly, be honest with yourself.
What are you currently reading? The Key, by Linda Solomon.
What was the last fun purchase you made and from where did you get it? My ‘Louis Chevrolet’ wrist-watch. I was able to help design it with the Swiss watchmaker!
Any recent discoveries that you can share (such as new Web site, an interesting person or object, piece of trivia?) A young child recently came up to me in a restaurant with a sketch of a car he drew. I was so taken with it that I worked with a member of our Design staff (Sung Paik) to take the child’s ‘sketch’ and turn it into a real concept car drawing. We sent the finished product back to the child, and needless to say he was thrilled to see his sketch become a real concept car. I hope he becomes a car designer one day!
Favorite Hotel? The Shilla Hotel in Seoul and the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires (Argentina).
Favorite Getaway? Anywhere in northern Italy…along with my home, my yard and my garage!
Favorite entrée to order and from where? Anything in any restaurant in Italy! But in particular, the black pasta dish I had at Harry’s Bar in Venice several years ago was memorable.
Favorite drink? Vodka martini, shaken and not stirred, with a ½ drop of Vermouth and plenty of olives.
Fave Vice/Guilty Pleasure: Several favorite guilty pleasures, including leading the GM Global Design team, and a high-speed run in my CTS-V Coupe while listening to Usher!
Favorite Car: The one I’m designing right now! But without a doubt, I’d have to include the 1963 Sting Ray split-window coupe on the list, along with the Chaparral 2D, 2C and 2H, as well.
Favorite city and location for a Kodak moment: I’d have to say both Dubai (city) and Egypt (country).
Favorite people in the car business: I was lucky enough to work for (legendary GM Designer) Bill Mitchell early in my career. I always admired Jim Hall, the designer of the Chaparral and finally met him and took three laps of Laguna Seca with him in the Chaparral 2E. I’d also have to include working with AJ Foyt on the Aerotech concept car project in the late 1980s, and every day working with Bob Lutz was an amazing experience.
Other faves: When my daughter, who works for the White House, took me on a tour of the West Wing. That was a special moment in my life.
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan. Originally from Berwyn, Pennsylvania (suburb of Philadelphia).
Age / Date of Birth: December 1950
First real job since formal schooling? This is it!
What advice would you have given to yourself 10 years ago? Always stay focused on the work…and on the assignment at hand.
What keeps you up at night? I sleep soundly each night. But just not enough hours!
Three people, living or dead, you’d have over to dinner? Harley Earl. Colin Powell. Ralph Lauren. Muhammad Ali. And of course, Kimatni Rawlins!
Pass the torch – Whom should we interview next? If you walked the halls of GM Design, you would meet the most fascinating people. They all have such rich stories. But I think you should talk to Crystal Windham and Christine Park…both of whom are with GM Design.