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Between the Lines

December 02, 2003

Boeing: from bad to worse?

For those of us who grew up in Boeing families and have been in the Seattle area long enough to have experienced the cyclical nature of the aerospace business several times, the decline in recent years of one of history’s great technology and manufacturing franchises has been dismaying and, in some respects, disgusting.

Boeing once was managed with flair, a willingness to take make-or-break decisions (and succeed) and – dare we say it? – genius. Now, as one seattletimes.com reader said, it’s "just another struggling company.”

It’s unfair to blame all of this on Phil Condit, but it did happen on his watch and even he recognized it was time to go. Unfortunately, installing Harry Stonecipher, who presided over the virtual destruction of the once-dominant McDonnell Douglas’ commercial airliner business, is unlikely to be a positive step. Seattle Times columnist Stephen Dunphy explains why here.

Besides what Steve says, it’s well to remember a lesson of history: once a company becomes No. 2 in the airliner business –- and Boeing will be second to Airbus in deliveries this year -- it’s not likely to regain its former leadership. It’s very similar to Ford’s problem with GM.

Yesterday, seattletimes.com asked readers to give us their thoughts on Condit’s legacy – and it’s not good news for Phil. Overwhelmingly, respondents – most of them Boeing workers, present or retired -- blamed Condit, at least in part, for the company’s misfortunes and expressed huge anxiety that Boeing will now desert the commercial airplane business is McDonnell Douglas did. Here are some representative comments:

Rob Robson, Seattle: “I think he will be remembered as the man who gave Boeing to McDonald Douglas. It seems like the same people that ran MM into the ground will now have the chance to do the same to Boeing.”

Tom Byrnes, Kent: “Phil ‘Vaporman’ Condit will be remembered as the man who sold Boeing down the river. … He has effectively turned the reins over to legacy McDonnell Douglas, both in stock holdings and management, so they can repeat their previous financial magic. … Look for Boeing to spiral into the ground over the next 5 years and for the parts to be sold off at bargain-basement prices. Can you say Wal-Mart Airplane Company?”

Raymond Victoria, Marysville: “ … The aftermath of his decision [to merge with McDonnell Douglas] will be the downfall of the Boeing Co.The new buisness plan that we will adopt through Harry [Stonecipher] will displace thousands of more workers while lining the pockets of former McDonald Douglas CEOs. Unfortunately our goverment will allow this to take place under the guise of global partnerships.”

Aaron Whiteman, Pullman: “What I will remember is how Boeing changed from being a Northwest staple to a faceless corporation. Once upon a time, Boeing was Seattle, and Seattle was the heart of Boeing. Under Condit, those ties were lost. Condit's legacy will be that he turned an icon into just another struggling corporation.”

The only response to strongly support Condit came from David Kageyama of Seattle, whose two e-mails I’ve combined here:

“I'm a third generation Seattleite on both sides of my family - roots back to around 1910 in Seattle. As much as Boeing has for my life been the ‘face of Seattle,’ it's a whole new world now. Seattle needs to wake up to the fact we are players on a global stage. Microsoft -- global. PACCAR -- global. Weyerhaeuser -- global. Until a very short time ago Boeing was very much just Seattle.

“Condit had the unenviable job of trying to play ‘catch up’ by trying to quickly take Boeing global (his moving the HQ to Chicago a nod in that direction) in the face of perhaps the most wretched times in airline history.

“He led the company through some of its most challenging years - the beginnings of the ‘globalizaiton’ of The Boeing Company -- labor strife, worldwide economic downturns, threats from overseas competitors and demands from customer countries to share in the development and production of the planes they buy.

“[He was] an amazing leader in our local philanthropic community -- and my hope and every expectation is that Phil will continue to utilize his skills and resources to make our community one that we are proud to call our home.”

Now let’s take an intermission and see how Stonecipher does for a while. Who knows, he could surprise us (and I’m not being sarcastic).

Still, you can be certain that neither William Allen nor T.A. Wilson would have allowed a Boeing wing to be built in Japan (the wing after all is the airplane). But that's where the 7E7 wing is destined if it's ever built.

Posted by tbrown at 02:21 PM


Need to smear someone? Just make things up

Like James Taranto, editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web. Here he is yesterday, in a posting criticizing former President Jimmy Carter’s stand on the war in Iraq:

The disgraced former president also says of Iraq, ‘I was strongly against going in unilaterally.’ "

Disgraced? Jimmy Carter? I must have been out of town that day. Richard Nixon was disgraced by his official actions. Bill Clinton was disgraced by his private actions. But Jimmy Carter was no more disgraced than, for example, President Bush’s father, George H.W. Both the elder Bush and Carter could be said to have had failed presidencies, as they were defeated for re-election. But disgraced? Oh well. If the facts don’t fit, make something up.

Posted by tbrown at 02:06 PM




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