Liz Wetzel never thought she'd work at General Motors, or any car company for that matter.
She was an art student after all.
But when her dad noticed there was a lack of female designers in the Pontiac studios where he worked, he suggested she pursue automotive design.
She did and now, three decades later, she's been inducted in the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame as the first female Design Director at General Motors. Her most recent projects include designing the award-winning 2018 model of the Buick Enclave, which will soon be hitting metro Detroit showrooms.
Here's some of the lessons she's learned from a career that's literally broken the mold on and off plant floors around the world:
1. Diversity is the future.
“Any studio that you go in, you can see people from different countries, different cultures, different ethnic backgrounds,” Wetzel said. “It is extremely diverse right now, and that is a major milestone from when I started over thirty years ago.”
2. So is the next generation of what she calls STEAM students.
“STEM is turning into STEAM. It’s not just GM. It’s industry-wide. They have officially added the "A" in STEM," Wetzel said. "'A' is the artist, and it is there to bring about the creative mind. And creativity, of course it’s in the field that I’m in in – design. But in design we have engineers, we have designers, we have sculptors, we have animators.”
3. But those STEAM students will also need mentors, like the ones in the GM Car Design Competition.
“It’s a great platform for the students to show their creativity, show their skills. We mentor them in the process, so they have the ability to meet real industry professionals from General Motors. And we help guide them on their choices, on their designs, give them some mentoring," Wetzel said. "So, it’s a learning process for them, and it’s great for us because what we get out of it is very creative ideas and hopefully what we get, are the people who are really good that come and work for us.”
But for now, she and her female colleagues, like Mary Barra who became the first female CEO of a major car company, have come a long way.
“That was huge. I can say from a personal perspective for me that was the greatest thing I had witnessed in my career," Wetzel said. "Mary is a total inspiration."
Listen above for the full conversation.