While I have been a vocal critical of Dennis Muilenburg, he faces tomorrow a no-win situation, testifying in front of the US Congress. From politicians looking to make a name for themselves to long-time critics of Boeing, there is simply no way that he will emerge from this hearing without taking a verbal beating. He has no choice but to take it, be humble, and focus on the future rather than the past. But there will be those seeking an admission of responsibility from Boeing for the accidents. Mr. Muilenburg may have precluded some of that through his opening statement.

His opening statement can be found here: Opening Statement of Dennis Muilenburg, 29 October 2019:

He clearly admits the problems with the MCAS system and reliance on a single sensor. What he fails to disclose is how and why this could have happened in a 100-year-old company with a strong reputation for safety and double-checking everything possible. In this case, the 737 MAX, that didn’t happen. Clearly, something fell through the cracks, and as CEO, the buck stops with him.

The questions Congress should focus on are how the tragic design flaws happened, and what actions have since been put in place to ensure that they never happen again. He is likely to receive blunt questions from politicians about Boeing’s corporate culture, putting financial returns ahead of safety, and why employees felt pressured on cost and schedule. Clearly Boeing did not live up to its standards of design and safety with the MCAS system. The question they will ask, given Boeing’s longstanding commitment to safety, is what changed that allowed this to happen.

Those will be difficult questions to answer, especially given Boeing’s recent focus on returning capital to shareholders and maximizing its share price. Tying this together will be questioning on whether Boeing’s financial focus drove the cost and schedule pressures that resulted in a failure in safety, and where those financial pressures came from. The answer is likely from the top of the organization downward, rather than from the bottom up.

We respect the people of Boeing just as much as Dennis does. They are the backbone of a company that should and can recover from this tragedy. Unfortunately, they deserve better leadership that focuses on the safety principles outlined many years ago by William Boeing that somehow disappeared under intense cost and schedule pressure from management. Discovering where that pressure came from may not be a question Mr. Muilenburg will want to readily answer.

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