In 1961, an 11 year old from Berwyn, PA penned a letter to the General Motors headquarters asking, “How do I get a job in this company?” Edward T. Welburn, Jr. was requesting a bespoke blueprint to fulfill his dream of becoming a car designer, but unbeknownst to him, his ideal employer would reply with the academic layout that would influence and deploy him into his destiny of becoming the first BLACK Chief Designer of the General Motors Corporation; the most coveted job within the elite, automotive industry in which he would oversee 600 employees, as well as, 11 design studios, globally.
At the height of the BLACK Power and Civil Rights movement, Welburn was cultivating his love for design in an auto-body shop that was co-owned and operated by his father, Edward Welburn, Sr.; they spent hours together sketching vintage cars, with Edward, Jr. tracing over his father’s designs of the classic 1930’s Dusenberg’s. Following the advisement of his ideal employer, he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, DC, where he studied sculpture and product design and graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor’s Degree from the School of Fine Arts. At the age of 21, he was awarded an internship with General Motors in which he relentlessly sketched interior and exterior automobile designs and proved himself to be invaluable. “It was the first time somebody black was putting sketches up on the board. I quickly realized I was representing more people than just myself,” he stated.
Welburn began his career in General Motor’s Buick division as a recent graduate with an objective of designing smaller cars as the large body, gas-guzzling automotive era came to a close. In 1975, he transferred to the Oldsmobile division where he worked for 20 years and designed the classic and sophisticated 1980’s Cutlass Supreme; furthermore, production of the 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue solidified his reputation as a respected car designer; he also became director of General Motor’s Corporate Brand Character Center (CBCC) in 1998 to ensure that both interior and exterior designs were in compliance with design standards across all divisions. On September 6, 2003, Welburn became the sixth Chief Designer in the history of General Motors and the first African American in the automotive industry.
Unlike many adolescents, Edward T. Welburn, Jr. solidified his position as Chief Designer at 11 years old by having a vision and seeking and following directions. Mr. Welburn fully understands the significance of what his unparalleled leadership and mentorship means to even the brightest of young 11 year olds; so, he is sure to respond when they write him and ask, “How do I get a job working in this company?”