Sunday, February 21, 2010
Crystal Windham: The Sister Behind GM's Trend-Setting Interiors
At one time, growing up in the suburbs of Detroit as an African American female meant you had two career options: work in the music industry for Motown or build cars for the "Big Three" -- GM, Ford and Chrysler. Since music wasn't the calling of Crystal Windham, the first African American female director in GM's design history (and in the auto industry), she decided to take the road less traveled by not building cars in a factory like many of our ancestors or by working in a traditional administrative role typically expected of women.
Windham decided to buck the trend, operating in a field not normally occupied by women (African Americans or Hispanics for that matter). Furthermore, having Windham overseeing a design team is about as rare as finding a brother teaching elementary school.
Windham, who says she's a risk taker and driven like her mom (who is now deceased), became enamored with the auto industry after receiving a scholarship to take up an auto design class during her freshman year at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit (Ralph Gilles, lead designer of the Chrysler 300, and Earl Lucas, the exterior designer of the all-new Taurus, attended CCS, too).
While she found the class to be both challenging and rewarding, Windham immediately caught the bug -- itching to become an auto designer. To test her skills at auto designs, she accepted a summer internship with Ford before landing her dream job out of college with GM.
And unlike most Generation Xers, who have worked for several companies in the span of their professional careers, Windham has been loyal to GM (and GM has been loyal to her, too). Since joining the company, she has had several high-profile assignments, from living in Germany for a year to becoming the lead designer of the interior of the 2004 Chevy Malibu to her current appointment as director of North American passenger-car design.
In fact, while researching new trends in luxury purses such as Louis Vuitton, Windham came up with the award-winning two-tone upscale interior for the current generation Malibu, which has been praised by the industry and customers alike.
In addition to fashion influencing her car-interior designs, interface products like Blackberry cell phones and MP3 players have also helped the GM designer develop the Midas touch.
When Windham was asked what advice she would give to those looking to accomplish something outside of the norm, she suggested finding something you love and are passionate about. Stay open-minded, but never be afraid to ask for help even if it's from someone who doesn't look like you. Work hard. Have a positive support system. And be open to criticism -- within it, there's a message that shouldn't be ignored. Like Jesus was able to turn water into wine, Windham has used her fashion sense and love for tech gadgets to revolutionize the car industry.