Saturday, July 16, 2016

Car Designer Martin Davis Reflects On What It Meant To Work Under GM's First Black Car Designer

Lighting Design Manager Martin Davis is holding the taillights of one of the many vehicles he's responsible for designing.

For our one-year anniversary show, honoring pioneer designer Ed Welburn, who spent 44 years as a designer of General Motors, we reached out to a few individuals who were mentored by the trendsetter. Welburn was the highest ranking black auto executive, before he retired on July 1. To find out more about Welburn and our radio interview, which airs Saturdays this month, click here.

What has it meant to have Ed Welburn as your design leader?

MD: Having Ed Welburn as my design leader has meant having the example of someone who is balanced, patient, and open minded. Ed has always been very approachable and has always been very receptive to new creative ideas.

This means that I do not have to be dogmatic in my approach to design and with the team that I lead. Fostering open communication and an open exchange of creative ideas has resulted in new design discoveries/solutions that has helped to push GM Design forward.

Ed’s poise is also something I find fascinating. I can only imagine what it took to be the first: first African American (AA) car designer at GM, first AA Studio Director, First AA VP, Global Design, etc. I can look at his example as direction on how I should move forward in my career, but who did he have to follow? What sort of balance did it take for him to move steadfastly through his career without any ill-informed missteps?

Tell one thing Welburn did or said that was life altering or had a huge impact on you. This could be as a designer or outside of design.

MD: A huge impact that Ed Welburn made on me was a personal phone call that I received from him in 2002 while I was working in our UK Advanced Design studio. This was after my work on the Cadillac Cien show car and during the development of a proposal for the Cadillac Sixteen show car. Although balancing a very busy schedule, he took the time to reach out to me to reassure me that I had not been forgotten and to continue with the effort that I was putting forth at that time. He cared. He didn’t have to do that, but he did.


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