Back when Boeing was based in Seattle, there was a saying among people who lived in that city: “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.”
That was the attitude of those who worked for Boeing, and for those who knew Boeing. If you didn’t build Boeing airplanes, you knew somebody who did.
You knew the pride they took in their work. You knew the unbelievably high level of their skill. You knew they were brilliant. Aerospace engineers, aeromechanics, designers, business people: They were the best in the world. Airlines that bought Boeing planes had a hard time not making money with them. Passengers felt safe flying in Boeing aircraft. Passengers and crews felt comfortable and safe when they were in Boeing planes.
Now, though, people are taking another look. Sure, there are many Boeing planes, such as the thrifty 737s , the capacious 747s, the smoothly quiet 757s and 767s, beautiful and reliable machines.
But Boeing may have come a cropper with its Dreamliner. Its 787 fleet remains on the ground while the company tries to figure out what to do about the lithium-ion battery meltdowns that have led to the grounding of its Dreamliners by regulators the world over.
When the Dreamliner was years late to market, people in Seattle, who knew what they were talking about, said the plane was too complicated, depended on too many systems made by too many foreigners, and manufacturing was being run out of Chicago headquarters instead of Seattle, where eyes-on decisions could be made quickly.
Jim McNerney, Boeing’s CEO, is not an airplane guy. He came to Boeing in 2005 from 3M, where he made adhesives and tapes. He replaced former McDonnell Douglas CEO Harry Stonecipher, who replaced Phil Condit, a Boeing lifer who turned out to be a little lax on ethics.
It was Condit who moved Boeing headquarters from Seattle to Chicago, mainly to get away from all those experts who make — or shall we say made — the best airplanes in the world. They should move back to Seattle before they lose the whole company.