By the time I was born in early World War Two Boeing had become a great company.
That greatness was the result of a fortuitous confluence of factors.
A high level distillation of those factors can be described: great organized labor, great entrepreneurial management and great get-your-hands-on-the-products-and-processes executives, all three of whom were imbued with deep scientific curiosity, engineering ability and fanatic commitment to quality.
And those managers, engineers and other skilled workers and executives lived – together daily – on the shop floor.
And – I think this is probably true; it’s hard to imagine otherwise given the culture of those long ago times – they all ended up after hours in the same Renton, bars, grills and taverns; they probably kept talking – in the egalitarian environment that bars, grills and taverns can foster – shop: what was ahead of schedule; what was behind schedule; what was going well; what was screwed up; how to keep getting better and how to fix the problems.
That all produced airplanes like the 70 year old B52 which is still a central part of America’s air war capability.
Or the, until Max 8, flawless (yeah I haven’t forgotten the batteries, but that got fixed quickly and transparently and permanently) string of 7XX airliners.
Have you ever seen the 707 doing barrel rolls over Lake Washington?
So how could that company get to the Max 8?
Of course I don’t know.
But I think it has to do with the fact that a few years back a cadre of executives having no cultural or hereditary relationship to the Renton Culture decided that they needed to remove themselves from the sweaty stench of the managers and workers.
They moved off to Chicago and began thinking great thoughts in tall buildings.
In that environment, far from “the egalitarian environment that bars, grills and taverns can foster” it is easy to imagine how executives could have spun – to each other – a plane whose design point: quick production, cheap cost and no pilot training, but which was really a lumbering disaster needing sensors and software to keep it from crashing, as a no sweat slam dunk.
And then they spun it, slam dunked it and lied, misrepresented and obfuscated its problems, not the least of which is that the spinners are all off in Chicago.
And two planeloads of human beings have died because of the ivory tower spinners.
I think the Chicago tribe should all be fired and replaced post haste, with promoted-from-within managers and workers from Renton.
And their prime directive should be get back to the bars after work and hammer out – once more and again – what it means to be a great company: what it means to be Boeing, a Seattle company.