IT TOOK MICHAEL Pickstone several years to decide what career path to follow. After spending a year in college in Toronto, Canada, he dropped out to restore vintage sports cars, refurbish old houses, work as a waiter and spend a lot of time skiing.
'I was what is called a ski bum,' says Pickstone. 'I lived on a shoestring budget doing various things to make money and then taking off on long trips around the USA and Canada to ski. It was a fun way to spend time when you're young.
'I was also a car nut,' he adds, 'and I loved British sports cars in particular, so I had fun working on them when I was not skiing.'
At 26, Pickstone decided to go back to school. Three years later, he graduated from the school of industrial design at Ontario College of Art in Canada.
After that he studied in Switzerland - and not just on the slopes. Pickstone spent a year at the European campus of the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California. After graduating in 1989 he was recruited by Toyota. Pickstone worked at Toyota's design center in Zaventum, Belgium, until moving to Opel in 1992.
'I really enjoyed Toyota,' he says. 'I got my feet wet in professional design and it was fascinating. But it was effectively a satellite studio and I was anxious to get experience working on a model right from the beginning of the design to the point where it goes on the road.'
Not long after joining Opel, Pickstone was chosen to work on a special project outside the main design studio. He is not allowed to say much about the vehicle he spent two years working on.
'Let's just say it will see the light of day in the USA,' he says.
In June 1996 Pickstone was promoted to chief designer with responsibility for Opel's J-car (Vectra) design studio. He is overseeing the design of the Vectra successor that is expected around 2000.
Pickstone says the new model will 'convey an impression of strength and quality, it will have a slightly lighter look than now and it will have a spacious interior environment.'
He says that incidental features are among the biggest challenges.
'Cupholders are one of the most difficult things to package in a car,' he says. 'But it is possible to do them well. Look at the Saab 9-5. Its cupholder design is exquisite. It really impresses me.'
With a daughter just over a year old, Pickstone's off-duty life tends to revolve around his home.
'My wife and I like to walk so we can do that with our daughter in the hills along the Rhine valley,' he says.
'We both love to travel and to ski but our skiing is on hold for now. I'm sure we'll go back to it since we both love it. In fact my wife, who is Swiss, is a much better skier than me.'
Pickstone also likes to unwind in the kitchen. 'I like nothing better than going to the market on a Saturday morning and picking up some nice fresh foods which I can turn into a meal for friends in the evening,' he says. 'I'll open a nice bottle of red wine and make a day of the preparations. It's very relaxing.'