GM: intern advances to highest ranking Black in automobile industry

Edward T. Welburn has always been career driven

By George E. Curry NNPA Columnist | 5/1/2014, midnight
Though no one knew it at the time, the decision by Edward T. Welburn Jr.’s parents to take him to ...

He started his career at GM in 1972 as an associate designer in the Advanced Design Studios. The next year, he joined the Buick Exterior Studio, working on the Buick Riviera and Park Avenue. In 1975, he joined the Oldsmobile Exterior. In 1989, he was promoted to chief designer of the Oldsmobile Studio. In 1996, Welburn accepted a two-year assignment with Saturn, working mostly out of its Russelsheim, Germany studio.

He became director of GM’s Advanced Design studio in Warren, Mich. After several key assignments, he was named vice president of GM Design North America in 2003 and two years later was selected to fill the newly-created position of vice president for Global Design.

Welburn has repeatedly demonstrated that he knows how to connect with GM’s customers, having had a hand in the design of such best-sellers as the Cadillac Escalade, Hummer H2, Chevrolet Avalanche and the SSR, a retro hot-rod pickup.

Getting to the top of his craft, means that Welburn has to be on the road a lot, traveling to 10 design studios in the United States and six other countries: Germany, Korea, China, Australia, Brazil and India.

“It’s kind of interesting to sit in traffic and see a family in one of your latest products and see how happy they are. That feels very good,” he said.

Welburn said it also feels very good to see the joy in the eyes of designers when he accepts one of their ideas.

“When a young designer’s design is picked and I say, ‘That’s the design we’re going with,’ it just…” Welburn’s smile completes the unfinished sentence. “And it doesn’t matter if they’re 20 years old or 50 years old—it’s like they are 14.”

When asked the about the most difficult part of his job, Welburn is succinct: “Managing 2,500 creative individuals in a corporate world.”

Judging by the awards, he has managed well.

In 2008, the Chevrolet Malibu was named North American Car of the Year. In 2010, the Chevrolet Camaro was picked the 2010 World Car Design of the Year and in 2011, the Chevrolet Volt, a revolutionary electric car, was selected North American Car of the Year.

The significance of Welburn’s contributions to the turnaround at GM was underscored last year at the Washington Auto Show when he and President Obama sat alone in a 2012 Chevrolet Malibu. The most powerful leader in the world was sitting next to the highest-ranking African American in the automobile industry.

“He just let me know how proud he was with the work that I do, and I was just like ‘Wow,’” Welburn told reporters. The president official limousine, sometimes dubbed Cadillac One or Limo One, was built on the Cadillac DTS model.

Though Welburn’s dream of becoming a car designer never extended to meeting the first Black president of the United States, he is as exuberant about his career choice now as he was when his parents took him to that memorable auto show in Philadelphia.