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http://www.lsj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070903/NEWS03/709030320/1004/news03

Published September 3, 2007

(Photo by Photo courtesy of General Motors Corp.)
Homegrown talent: Michael Burton, a Lansing native, directs interior design for General Motors Corp.'s front-wheel-drive trucks, including its crossovers such as the Buick Enclave (left).
Michael Burton file
• Title: Director of interior design for front-wheel-drive trucks

• Company: General Motors Corp.

• Grew up: On Lansing's west side

• School: Bachelor's degree in industrial design, Center for Creative Studies in Detroit; master's in organizational management from the University of Phoenix; certificate from Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Okla.

• Family: Wife, Darnell, who is a pharmacist; dog, Bella

• Of note: Burton also is a talented musician. He's played music for his church and written music for his wedding.

Lansing native directs the interior design of GM's hot-selling crossovers
'Architectural' PROWESS

Barbara Wieland
Lansing State Journal

Even before he could read the name plates, Michael Burton knew how to distinguish one car from another.

"He would sit on his grandpa's lap as he drove down the street and say, 'That's a Cadillac. That's a Chevrolet,' " recalled his mother, Jessie Richardson.

These days, other people point out Burton's cars - or at least the ones he's had a hand in developing.

Burton, who grew up in Lansing, helped design the exteriors of General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac STS and SRX, both made at the Lansing Grand River assembly plant. He also helped design the interiors of all three crossover vehicles made at the Lansing Delta Township plant - the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave.

Burton, 51, said he knew from an early age he wanted to work in the car business.

He just never knew he'd do so well in it.

"I'm living my dream," Burton said in an interview at GM's design center in Warren.

Autos in his blood

Burton got a head start in the auto industry. It was in his blood.

His mother and stepfather were career GM employees. They raised him on Lansing's west side, along with his three sisters, a brother and two stepbrothers.

Early on, it was clear that Michael had gifts few others have.

His first-grade teacher, Eunice DeMyers, still treasures the clay horse he made and gave to her. Burton added details that hands so young rarely craft, including small indentations for nostrils and eyes.

"Something like that is pretty rare for a first-grader," said DeMyers, who taught Burton at Lincoln Elementary School and retired in 1999. "He was always so artistic."

In fact, she said, Burton seemed to excel at everything he tried. Describing him as a perfectionist, DeMyers said she remembers how excited he was when he learned how to read in her class. By the end of the year, he was reading at a fourth-grade level.

"He just never gave up," DeMyers said.

A kid with talent

Another mentor, Bob Riddle, also watched Burton persevere. Riddle is a former mason who got to know Burton as the director of the Urban League's Labor Education Advancement Program.

Burton became involved in the program when he was about 14 years old and a freshman at Harry Hill High School. Riddle saw his portfolio and knew the youngster had talent.

"I told him he needed to talk to a counselor about getting into drafting classes and other programs that would get him where he wanted to be," Riddle said.

Riddle also found the name and address of a GM executive and encouraged Burton to submit samples of art and ask the exec for guidance.

"He wrote back and gave me insight on how to get into automotive design," Burton said. "He said I would have to go into industrial design, and I hadn't ever heard of it."

The teen continued to work toward his goal, enrolling in Detroit's Center for Creative Studies in 1974. Burton's college costs were covered through a Ford Motor Co. scholarship, and the Dearborn carmaker hired him after he graduated.

But Burton's dream came to an abrupt halt in 1980. A downturn in the auto industry led to layoffs, and Burton was cut from Ford's payroll.

But he wasn't about to feel sorry for himself.

Burton, who has been actively involved in his faith since childhood, said he felt called to the ministry. He moved to Tulsa, Okla., and earned a certificate from the Rhema Bible Training Center.

For four years, Burton prepared for the ministry while keeping his artistic talent alive by designing letterhead, graphics and other items. To make ends meet, he worked as a janitor.

Others who got a taste of their dream only to have it taken away might despair. But Burton credits his faith for keeping him moving forward.

"A lot of things that happen are beyond your comprehension," he said. "You can look at it as a steppingstone or you can look at it as a stumbling block."

For Burton, time in Tulsa was the latter. A friend from Detroit tracked him down in 1984 and asked him what he was doing. "He said all the automakers were looking for me," Burton recalled with a laugh.

So, he returned to his home state and interviewed with GM, Ford and Chrysler. Chry-sler took him on as its first black designer.

In his 15 years at the Auburn Hills-based carmaker, Burton worked on everything from the Dodge Intrepid to the Copperhead show car.

But in 1999, GM's chief designer, Ed Welburn lured him to the Detroit automaker, making him the first black man to work as a designer at all three domestic auto companies.

Back to Lansing

Burton joined GM as it was building a new factory in Lansing that would become the Lansing Grand River facility. He was assigned to help design the vehicles that would be made there.

The importance of the work wasn't lost on him. Two years earlier, GM scared his hometown by telling Lansing that it might leave the city.

"Lansing had never been without an active GM plant, not in almost 100 years," Burton said. "The fact that I was going to design something that would be built in Lansing was quite significant to me."

After that assignment, he was promoted to the position of director of interiors for front-wheel-drive trucks. That assignment made him the creator of interiors for the three crossover vehicles made at the Lansing Delta Township plant that went online in November 2006.

Those interiors, particularly the Enclave's, have received rave reviews in the automotive press. Motor Trend magazine said the Enclave's interior had "living-room luxury." U.S. News and World Reports said that "its luxurious interior and sleek styling could have potential owners comparing it to more vaunted competition."

But the Enclave and its sister vehicles are more than press darlings. GM has credited the crossover vehicles made at the Lansing Delta Township plant for bolstering the automaker's sales, even in months that have been lackluster.

Finding fame

Between January and July of this year, 40,964 GMC Acadias and 19,908 Saturn Outlooks have been sold. Since the Buick Enclave went on sale in April, 8,605 have been sold.

Across town at the Lansing Grand River plant, there have been 13,450 Cadillac SRXs and 11,120 Cadillac STSs sold so far this year.

And it's not just the new crossovers that are popular.

Burton has enjoyed some fame as the crossover rolled out of the plant and into the hearts of car reviewers. GM has featured him in a series of magazine and television ads for Buick, and he's met GM celebrity spokesman Tiger Woods.

Burton hopes the next generation of car designers might see those ads and be inspired.

"If they see me on TV, maybe they'll say, 'If he can do that, I can do that, too,' " Burton said. "If I can leverage my success to encourage others, that's what it's all about."

Contact Barbara Wieland at 267-1348 or [email protected].
 

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Very nics article. Michael Burton seems like a really nice guy. It is nice to get to know the "people" behind the machine. It will be nice to think of an actual "person" while I drive my Enclave. Way to go GM......hang on to people like him!
 

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I saw him in the Enclave commercial, very impressive & classy. I normally mute the commercials, but not this one. :thumb:
 

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And that's why I named my Enclave Burt. :angel: Thanks for the background info on him.
 

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For four years, Burton prepared for the ministry............But Burton credits his faith for keeping him moving forward.
Now I know why being inside the Enclave is like a "religious experience" :angel:

Seriously, it is nice to see someone who lives out their faith becoming a successful leader in the corporate world. And, I am proud that he is a GM man!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
desgnconcpts said:
But Burton's dream came to an abrupt halt in 1980. A downturn in the auto industry led to layoffs, and Burton was cut from Ford's payroll.
But he wasn't about to feel sorry for himself.
Burton, who has been actively involved in his faith since childhood, said he felt called to the ministry. He moved to Tulsa, Okla., and earned a certificate from the Rhema Bible Training Center.
For four years, Burton prepared for the ministry while keeping his artistic talent alive by designing letterhead, graphics and other items. To make ends meet, he worked as a janitor.
Others who got a taste of their dream only to have it taken away might despair. But Burton credits his faith for keeping him moving forward.
"A lot of things that happen are beyond your comprehension," he said. "You can look at it as a steppingstone or you can look at it as a stumbling block."
The thing I found really touching about Michael was this bit above -- here's a talented guy, gets laid off/let go in the midst of industry cuts but soldiers on continuing to believe in himself and his dream of helping to design cars. I know for me, this part really resonated with me on a personal level -- and probably will with so many people in today's "10 second" world. I really enjoyed reading a bit about him and hope that we will continue to learn more about the folks behind the scenes that have helped design and build our Enclaves.
 
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