Crystal Windham became the first African-American female director in General Motor’s Design history in 2008. She spearheaded several award-winning interiors, including the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and 2014 Chevrolet Impala. She began her career at General Motors in 1994 and became the director of Cadillac Interior Design in January 2016. She’s accumulated several awards along her journey, including Urban Wheel Designer of the Year, the Emerging Leader Award from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Automotive News 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Windham during the Women in NAACP “WIN” Empowerment Brunch at the NAACP’s 110 National Convention in Detroit. Cadillac was a co-sponsor of the brunch, which was designed to “empower women and girls to lead and advocate for positive life experiences and self-development.” When asked about the importance of sponsoring an event such as WIN’s empowerment brunch, Windham stated “What this platform stands for, in trying to empower women to persevere and keep rising, is the root of Cadillac: Keep rising. So, to be here and to be a part of this, is very, very important to me. It’s very important to myself, but also to Cadillac.”
Cadillac is defining American luxury in the spirit of originality, limitless imagination and the quest for the exceptional. And Crystal Windham is breaking molds and redefining what the traditional image of a design director looks like at Cadillac. Read more of what Windham had to share about her amazing journey in becoming the first African American female director in GM’s Design history.
How did you get started on your career path?
My journey starting before 1994. The journey is interesting because I did not know what I wanted to do at all in life. I thought, as a teenager I wanted to be a hairstylist or design interiors of homes. So, I used to sit and draw hairstyles and things like that. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until my 10th grade year in high school when I had my first real art class, taught by an African American teacher, who confirmed that I had talent in art. So, he met with my parents and encouraged me to keep going. He led me down to the Wayne State College of Creative Studies, and from there I built a portfolio. I was accepted into the college and it was there that I learned about automotive design.
One of the chairmen of design for transportation came up to me and said, “Instead of drawing things such as still life, why don’t you try drawing cars?” And I said, I never gave it a thought, took a class and fell in love. And it was so exhilarating to design a product that would impact so many lives. From there, I never looked back.
Briefly talk about your current role. What do you do as the director of interior design at Cadillac?
If you sit in your vehicle today, anything that you see, touch and interface with, I get to lead a creative team into coming up with what that vision will be. In this role, I’m so excited because I’ve come from Chevrolet, all the way to Cadillac. So, to me it’s both bookends. It’s pretty awesome.
What’s been so special about Cadillac is this is an opportunity to redefine American luxury. We are really paving the way. We’re pushing hard. To be a part of that design team is like none other.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
The most exciting thing about my job, especially after being at General Motors for 25 years, is enabling the innovation and new thinking from the younger designers. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to serve them. Through my knowledge and experiences, when I see something that is new and innovative, I know how to bring that to market. So that’s what gets me excited.
General Motors is a huge advocate for giving back to the community. One of the many ways they do this is through GM Design’s “You Make a Difference Program.” Tell us more about this program.
The “You Make a Difference Program” is an effort to try to catch the creative talent early. We go out to area middle schools and high schools to teach students how to draw cars. We’re trying to catch that talent and nurture it and get them within the pipelines, so we can recruit them. We need that young, diverse talent at General Motors and we’re serious about it.
GM has long been a global leader in advocating for women’s equality in the workplace, with women in 34.4% of its top management positions. In your opinion, why is it important for women to work in leadership capacities?
We make a lot of the decisions in the household, right? It is a high percentage. I want to say 80% to 90%, somewhere in that realm. Because of that, we need to be in leadership positions where our viewpoint is heard. It’s a valuable one. General Motors believes in it. I can stand before you today, being in my position and attest to making sure that our voice is heard.
American Luxury is about choice, and with Cadillac, you can have the best of both worlds: an exhilarating driving experience and a taste of the future. Talk about the exciting new lineup of products Cadillac currently has coming out.
We have so many products coming out. Stay tuned to your Cadillac showrooms. Stay tuned to all the reveals because we have reveal after reveal coming all this year. We have the new XT6 SUV, which I’m really excited about. It’s a little bigger than the XT5. And then we have the XT4, which is smaller than the XT5, so it’s nimble, it’s fun, maybe for smaller families. Then we have sedans coming. We have the CT5 and the CT4. There’s so many more vehicles coming down the pipeline, so definitely be on the lookout.