Crystal Windham, General Motors’ First African American Female Design Director

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altDETROIT – If you are able to steal a moment of Crystal Windham’s time, you quickly discern how her creative input greatly contributed to the award-winning General Motors’ passenger cars like the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu and 2007 Saturn Aura. It set a fruitful foundation for her historic appointment at the automotive colossus.

In addition to her proven skills as an interior and exterior automotive designer, Windham’s eloquence and impassioned devotion to her craft helped her sculpt a dynamic mental portrait of the Buick — in this case the Verano — that Gen-X and Gen-Y drivers have perhaps never beheld before from the brand: a compelling intermarriage of Buick’s traditional grace and glamour with compact flashiness and youthful flavoring.

The philosophical alterations notwithstanding, Windham knows all Buicks still have to be, well, regal.

“The Buick historically has been known for voluptuous forms and sculptural beauty,“ says Windham, who was born, raised and educated here in the epicenter of American auto manufacturing. “We wanted to take this Buick [Verano] to the next level and have this balance of youthful expression, but still be classy. You still have to be elegant.”

Windham’s intangibles and illustrious career portfolio catapulted the unassuming and disarming GM veteran to become the first African American female director of General Motors North American Passenger Car Design. There were hints of Windham’s uninterrupted upward trajectory at our first meeting five years ago at a GM function prior to the NAACP Image Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. She gave a breakdown about her work on the Saturn Aura that was so comprehensive (practically scientific) that she should have appeared before reporters with a labcoat and clipboard. That car soon won the coveted “Car of the Year” award at the all-important North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

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While that brand became a casualty of corporate consolidation, auto aficionados and connoisseurs alike became aware of Windham as a result. Now she’s riding in the left lane with the likes of the Buick Verano, raising the luxury brand to a critically acclaimed whip on wheels, according to early reviews from respected auto mags.

Windham, who has a bachelor’s in industrial design from the Center for Creative Studies and a master’s in business administration from the University of Detroit Mercy, is buckled up and nestled in for the exciting ride as director of design.

“It’s a huge opportunity. It came with a lot of hard work and open-mindedness,“ she says. “It’s one [thing] to work hard on something that you kind of enjoy. But it’s another when you love what you’re doing. It doesn’t seem that you have to work as hard. So it’s been truly an honor and I’m taking the opportunity to do as much as I can and influence as many people as I can.” –terry shropshire

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