Lordstown Motors’ Edward Hightower emerges as first Black CEO of a U.S. automaker in more than 100 years

Edward Hightower was named the CEO of Lordstown Motors Corp. on Tuesday, making him the first Black CEO of a U.S. automaker in more than 100 years.

“It’s something I’m proud of. I’m proud of my heritage, I’m proud of my race,” Hightower told Automotive News on Tuesday. “The thing that I spend the most time focusing on is how I deliver for my customers and how I deliver for the team. I think my background helps.”

Hightower was promoted to CEO after being president of the company. Lordstown Motors also announced several other management moves.

Though other Black men have risen to high automotive executive roles — such as Ed Welburn, General Motors former vice president of global design, and Ralph Gilles, the chief design officer at Stellantis and a member of its top executive team — Hightower has made history with his new position.

Hightower, 57, hails from Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in general engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Later, he held several engineering, strategy, brand marketing and senior executive roles for GM, Ford and BMW.

Hightower said his background has prepared him for the role at Lordstown Motors.

“I’ve grown my career in the automotive industry because I’ve been passionate about it. My entire life, I was passionate about cars,” Hightower said. “Growing up in Chicago, I was good in math and science. So I’m blessed to have the career I’ve had so far. I look forward to continuing it with this transition toward electrification and leading Lordstown.”

Longtime automotive communications executive Randi Payton, CEO of Decisive Media, said Hightower is highly qualified for the job.

“I give my hats off to Ed Hightower, because Ed has been doing something that very few executives have done, not only in the U.S., with a wide range of experience, but he’s also global,” Payton said. “I think Ed is highly qualified to be the CEO of a major auto company.”

Even as a child, Hightower said he was deeply interested in cars and their creation.

“When I was in elementary school and it was library time, I’d always look at the books about future cars in the library. I grew up in the Boy Scouts,” he said. “And my Scoutmaster taught me how to change the oil in the vehicle when I was like 11 years old. So things like that were always interesting to me. I knew I wanted to have something to do with how these vehicles got created and made.”

Hightower said that being Black gives him a valuable and essential point of view.

“I think it gives me the perspective that there’s talent everywhere. And there’s passionate, very strong people in the industry, from all backgrounds,” Hightower said. “It’s important for African Americans and everyone to have access to experiences and mentorship for which they’re qualified and interested in. You just have a much broader pool for the industry to choose from to grow and succeed.”

Hightower isn’t the first Black automotive CEO in the U.S. He recalled reading a story about C.R. Patterson and Sons — the first car company founded by an African American person — in an issue of African-Americans on Wheels, which further inspired him in his career.

Charles Richard Patterson, an abolitionist who preached equal rights and opportunities for Black Americans, founded the company, which produced cars from 1915 to 1918. He joined the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2021.

“It was great seeing those stories in the history of African Americans. That matters because there’s been a history of success of African American entrepreneurs across a variety of sectors,” Hightower said. “It was good to see that story several years ago. Like for anyone, seeing success stories is always motivating.”

Hightower will take over at a crucial time in Lordstown’s four-year history, as the Ohio company is still gearing up to launch the Endurance all-electric pickup. Hightower said he believes he’s the person capable of getting the vehicle to market.

Shares in Lordstown Motors rose 5.8 percent to close Tuesday at $1.83 following the announcement.

“I’m very aware of where we are in our preparation towards our launch in the third quarter and our startup sales in the fourth quarter. There’s a lot of midnight oil, if you will, that you’re burning to make sure the vehicle is right for customers,” Hightower said.

“We’re focusing on the disciplines and processes that are required to launch a vehicle with quality. So I’m spending my time with the team, focused on that.”

Drew Goretzka contributed to this report.


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