Society: GM designs stylish send-off for Ed Welburn

Chuck Bennett

The tone of the party said much about the man that it celebrated — elegant, sophisticated, glamorous. About 100 invited guests came out on Thursday night to a private black-tie dinner party to honor Edward T. Welburn, who is retiring from General Motors after more than 40 years of outstanding service. Hired in 1972, Welburn became GM’s vice president of global design in 2003.

Quiet, decisive and beyond talented, Welburn has set new standards for the industry in automotive design. In the chicest car circles around the world, this humble gentleman is considered an icon, a phenomenon, an automotive rock star.

The party, which was hosted by General Motors Global Product Development, was held at the GM Global Design Dome in Warren, the place Welburn affectionately calls “home.”

“Ed wanted the party to have a Casablanca, relaxed but elegant lounge feel,” explains GM senior creative designer Christopher Webb, whose team planned the aesthetics of the event. “Then he said, ‘Oh and by the way, I would love a pianist and a baby grand piano.’ With that, we transformed from a work space where the heart and soul of GM design work is displayed and moved to a place of love and affection for this very special man.”

Jazz pianist Cliff Monear tickled the ivories on a baby grand in the center of the room, emblazoned with a “44” graphic to commemorate the years Welburn has worked for GM. All this took place under a massive shimmering, beaded chandelier.

A delectable dinner was perfectly prepared and served by Forte Belanger, including a duo entree, King crab cake and beef tenderloin filet.

Fox 2 News anchor Huel Perkins was master of ceremonies and introduced the speakers, GM Executive Vice President Mark Reuss and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick. Rumors circulated briefly that Welburn’s friend and fellow car lover, comedian Jay Leno, was coming. He was a no-show, but did send a warm and witty taped message.

A number of vehicles were displayed throughout the room that have been instrumental in Welburn’s career, including the Cadillac Cyclone (the concept vehicle that inspired an 8-year-old Welburn to want to work for GM).

Welburn’s last day at GM was July 1. The 65-year-old begins the retirement process by publishing a book, launching the Welburn Group consultancy firm (with very cool offices in downtown Detroit) and continuing work with GM on the design, engineering and build of a new design campus that is part of a $1 billion investment at the Warren Tech Center.

“I see design in everything I encounter,” says Welburn. “It is my life. So no way will this be a typical retirement. I won’t be going fishing. In fact, it’s a new beginning. We’re just getting started.”

Chuck Bennett is the creator of and the Fox 2 News Style Ambassador.