This is Edward T. Welburn, Jr.
He is the Global Head of Design for General Motors. He is only the 6th person to hold the position of “Head of Design” in GM’s history… and is the first person ever to be given the position of “Global Head of Design”, making him a Vice President of GM… and the person in charge of all GM design across the globe (which includes ten design centers in seven countries).
Why is this important? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe you happen to be a Ford or Mopar fanatic… Maybe you prefer Toyotas… Maybe you don’t really give a damn about cars or the automotive industry whatsoever. That’s OK with me. The fact that he works for General Motors isn’t important. The fact that he works in the Automotive Industry isn’t import. Heck, even the fact that he holds the highest-ranking position of any African American in the automotive industry isn’t important. (OK, that last one kind of IS important… but it’s not my point here.)
What is important is his story…
Edward T. Welburn, Jr. was born in 1950 and grew up in Philadelphia, PA. His father owned an automotive body shop and instilled a love of cars in Edward and his siblings. As a result, around the age of three Edward fell in love with cars and started to draw them regularly. Around the age of eight his family took him to the Philadelphia International Auto Show, at which he saw the (now famous) Cadillac Cyclone concept car which was designed by the legendary GM Head of Design, Harley Earl. Upon seeing that car the young Ed Welburn instantly told his parents that he wanted to grow up to design cars at General Motors.
So what did he do? Well, for starters, he wrote to General Motors asking them what it would take - what he needed to do - to one day become a designer with the company. Surprisingly, General Motors responded. They sent the then 11-year-old a list of what he should do and what directions he should take to get to that position…
And over the years Ed Welburn did every one of those things. He went on to graduate from Howard University’s College of Fine Arts with a bachelor’s degree in sculpture and product design. Upon graduation he achieved his dream, being hired as a designer in the Advanced Design Studios at General Motors. He worked hard on designs for the Buick Riviera and Park Avenue models. Then he became the chief designer for Oldsmobile. In the mid-90s he became the designer for Saturn.
He moved up the ranks becoming the director of Advanced Design for all of GM. His team created concept cars for GM brands and was also instrumental in creating the hydrogen fuel cell concepts.
Finally, in 2003, he was appointed the position of “Head of Design” for General Motors - considered by many to be the most prestigious position in the American Automotive Industry. He moved in to the big, historic office formerly used by legendary GM designers Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell. Upon his famous desk he placed several of his father’s auto-body shop tools.
In his position he has been instrumental in the design of many of the cars we are seeing today, including the new Camaro and Corvette models… the current generation of Cadillacs… the reinvented Buick line… and, of course, the Chevy Volt electric car.
Every so often he receives a letter from some young dreamer asking “What do I need to do to get to where you are?”. He answers every one of them, filling them with advice and suggestions of what direction to take.
In my opinion Edward T. Welburn, Jr. is the perfect example of “going after what you want in life”. To me his story is incredibly inspirational.
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