Ed Welburn, General Motors’ Vice President of Global Design, will wrap up his 44-year career at GM and officially retire on July 1, 2016. Welburn is only the sixth person in GM’s 108-year history to hold this position, joining such illustrious predecessors as Harley Earl, William Mitchell, and Chuck Jordan in the auto designer’s pantheon. Armed with a freshly-minted Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree, Ed was hired by GM in 1972 as an associate designer in the Advanced Design Studios. Thanks to his consummate design talent and management skills, he rose to the top of his profession despite tumultuous times at General Motors.
A natural-born car designer
Welburn’s car design familial support group was already in place when he arrived in this world in 1951. “My big influences were my father and his brothers, who right after World War II opened Welburn’s Garage, in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, and my father, who taught me to draw. I’ve always been involved with automobiles, and started drawing them when I was two, three years old.”
His career was seemingly preordained when his parents took him to the Philadelphia Auto Show in 1959. The first car they saw as they entered the show floor was the Cadillac Cyclone concept car. Ed stopped dead in his tracks – it was the coolest thing he had ever seen. “That car is one of the reasons why I wanted to be a car designer – not only a car designer, but a car designer for General Motors. It is a very special car for me.”
At age 11, Ed was looking ahead and sent a letter to GM seeking information about courses that would be beneficial for a car designer. GM responded with what must have been good advice, since Ed was hired on right out of Howard University.
First African-American global design chief
Ed Welburn is the first African-American ever to head the global design group of any automaker, and is the third-longest serving General Motors design head, after Harley Earl and William Mitchell. Under Welburn’s 11 years of global design leadership, GM gave us, among many others, a new generation Camaro in 2010, Mark II and Mark III Cadillac CTS, and the car that is very special to him, the Corvette Stingray C7.
Creating a new Corvette from the ground up may be the ultimate challenge for anyone in GM design – especially if you happen to be the one at the top whose reputation, fairly or not, will be judged on the new car’s acceptance. It’s a car with a strong history and a fanatical fan base, which makes it difficult to design a Corvette that is fresh and new, yet still viewed as a Corvette in the eyes of the traditionalists. According to Ed Welburn, “You’ve got the history of that brand; you want to build on that history. It needs to be a Corvette and not resemble anything else, and yet it’s got to be new and it’s got to be different.” The success of the Corvette C7 was the crowning achievement in Ed Welburn’s career.
Welburn planning an active retirement
If you’re looking around for a retirement present for Ed Welburn, don’t bother checking out big-screen TVs or ordering him a Netflix subscription. Following an active working lifestyle, he has no plans to become a couch potato. “I’m not going fishing. I’m not going to sit home watching TV. I have things I want to do,” he told The Detroit News. “I’m going to be rather busy. The list is long.”
Ed has been contemplating and planning his retirement for 3 or 4 years. On his long list of things he wants to do are:
- Starting the Welburn Group consultancy
- Working with GM on the design, engineering and building of the new design campus at the Warren Tech Center
- Judging Concours d’Elegance
- Continuing to work with students
- Publishing a book
A great way to segue from GM’s structured corporate environment into the more amorphous world of freelance consultancy, especially if you’re a car person, is a road trip. And that is just what Mr. and Mrs. Welburn have on the agenda. They’re having their personal Corvette Stingray C7 shipped to Rome, Italy, and then embarking on an epic road trip to “key places” in Europe, including the Le Mans and Goodwood race tracks. How cool is that?
In today’s times where loud, demeaning language and boorish behavior are all too often thought of as examples of “leadership,” Ed Welburn has been a refreshing change. The always impeccably-attired, soft-spoken Welburn has led a worldwide team of 2,500 very intelligent, creative people with inspiration, class, and style. Despite his success, he remains modest when honored for his achievements. When he was named the Black Engineer of the Year in 2015, he commented, “To be recognized for something you love to do, and have fun doing, it’s kind of cool. It’s real cool.”
We think Ed Welburn is the essence of “cool.” We wish him well and look forward to seeing his new projects.
Car Connection – http://www.thecarconnection.com/tips-article/1000784_gms-ed-welburn
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors