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management performance

May 11, 2014

Is an ideological agenda destroying the future of Boeing?

This is not a story about Boeing versus Airbus. It's about the view in management schools that an unhappy, insecure and more anxious society is better for capital than one that is happy, cooperative and mutually reliant on common objectives

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The most perplexing thing about Boeing for those watching its affairs from the ‘outer darkness’ of the rest of the world is the intensity of the ideological hatred from its management for its Washington state based workforce.

That may not of course, really matter here in Australia, unless it becomes apparent that the alleged nastiness over there becomes more widely fostered in this country.

A recent example of such corporate behaviour is claimed in this article to be Boeing’s announced agenda to shift its major engineering and research and design resources out of Washington state to low wage states.

The core problem is the experience and design culture that made Boeing great can’t be ‘transferred’. It is being terminated, for ideological reasons, and Boeing is already in deep trouble because of the sub standard quality of work done in South Carolina, for example.  Something Boeing is addressing at no small expense by sending the incomplete work back to Everett near Seattle to be fixed, and which was no doubt a factor in its decision to keep the work on the 777-X family primarily in Washington.

Inside the 747 line at Everett 2002, when Boeing was its most American

Will management’s perceived and no doubt at least in part justified gripes with unions really be served by breaking what remains of its longer term engineering and design excellence?

This is not a story about Boeing versus Airbus at any level. It’s more about the view in management schools that an unhappy, insecure and more anxious society is better for capital than one that is happy, cooperative and mutually reliant on common objectives and fostering cultures of excellence and innovation.

This is the core of Tom Hull’s argument.

Boeing closing an opportunity path

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over Boeing’s plans to move 1,300 engineering jobs from Washington state and California to low-wage, crony-capitalist states such as Alabama and South Carolina (April 30 Business Today), but that’s because I’m not directly affected. I don’t work for Boeing, own stock in it or plan on flying much in the future.

Boeing may be able to replace experienced factory workers with underpaid novices. But engineers are different, and without good engineers Boeing will soon have nothing to sell.

What saddens me about Boeing’s shortsighted move is how it undermines one of few opportunity paths my generation had. My father worked in Boeing’s Wichita factory, and he managed to buy a home, send his kids to college and retire early. I became an engineer and did even better.

But Boeing’s devaluation of engineering work threatens to close that opportunity path. And when young people see there’s no future in engineering, who will keep the technology we depend on working?

The core of this hack’s concern, as a half American who nearly ended up working for Boeing almost 50 years ago, is that I have seen America become a more unhappy, more poverty stricken and more unequal land than back then. It doesn’t value scientific leadership nor curiosity as much as it once did, indeed all that seems to matter anymore is short term stock valuations.

This is not what I expected when I got off the Qantas V-jet 707 on Memorial Day in San Francisco nearly half a century ago, when Mars was do-able before the turn of the century, and I’d live to see the first starship set forth.

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