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December 9, 2023
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Overnight came more bad news for Boeing.  Will it ever end? When will Boeing hit bottom and start the long climb back?

Will it ever end?

Yes it will, as it must.  The plurality of Boeing‘s employees are not party to the MAX crisis.  Indeed, we believe the majority of the people at Renton, where the MAX is built, are not party to this either.  The MAX was born out of  real fear Boeing was about to lose a major order at American to Airbus. Boeing was unprepared and caught off guard.  That in itself speaks volumes and is a separate, if related, issue.

Boeing’s people are as committed to the safety of air travel as anyone in the business.  The email exchanges demonstrate this – there are several people who were disturbed by the issues as the MAX evolved into production and service.  This was clearly not the Boeing they knew.  But there were others within Boeing that called the shots.  And the latter controlled the company culture.

Corporate culture is a reality – anyone who has been in a large company knows this.  Somehow, it is amazing to ponder this, there are toxic people who manage to climb the ladder.  These “cultural bullies” are not called out and culled from the culture.  As they rise, they create sycophants.  Sycophants believe that their own rise is tied the success of the toxic one.  Thus the toxicity grows into its own sub-culture.  This sub-culture then focuses on issue #1 – its self preservation.  The phenomenon of group self preservation has been studied and is well understood. 

Here is a quote from one such study in 1999: “…Consequences of self-serving include the maintenance of deviant behavior, actor–observer conflict, and the acquisition of material and identity-based benefits. Self-serving is argued to be relevant to a wide variety of organizational phenomena at several levels, including performance appraisal, escalation of commitment, unethical behavior, intergroup conflict, institutional process, and agency problems….”.   These are familiar terms and ideas for our business readers.  You can identify the toxic characters you are exposed to daily within your own organization.

Anyone who has worked in an organization that has even a few layers can understand this.  We’ve all seen it before.  The accepted truth ends up being defined by a charismatic personality.  To succeed you don’t challenge that truth for fear of career progress being stymied.  You don’t want to leave the company because you love the industry, or it’s the only industry you know, or you simply fear the “outside”.  All rational reactions.

For Boeing people who could see toxicity rising, there were rational reasons to stay quiet or limit information exchanges.  Leave Boeing to go where?  Better to disappear in the machine and wait for an external event or shock to break down the falsehoods and expose the “accepted truth”.

We are at that point.  Boeing is finding and releasing information in way it should have a year ago.  The false prophets are in trouble.  The release of the documents helps to expose people that need daylight to show them for what they are.  Moreover, these documents (and hopefully more to come) should aid any criminal investigation.  What did Boeing’s leadership know, when did they know it and what did they do?  For Boeing insiders, unhappy with how “their company” has been tarnished, now is the time to share their own emails and other documents. It may be an opportunity that won’t come again.

The only way to end the crisis is for Boeing’s own people to end it.

When does Boeing hit bottom and start the long climb back?

This depends on whether the majority of Boeing employees can save their company.  It is not clear just yet where the line is between those who want a clean break from those who want to keep the status quo.  Finding who is on which side is something to watch for.

Those seeking a break from past behavior are certainly the larger group in terms of raw numbers.  But they might not be at a critical mass within the top echelon.  Status quo works for those at the top because they have the most to lose. Moreover the top echelon have the power tools – they hire and pay the lawyers and consultants.  It is the top echelon that use resources to guide influence.  The top echelon is who gets to answer questions.  This is how the accepted truth becomes even more accepted.

Boeing communications over the past year is evidence of how information flow is controlled. It is also an example of how information vacuums fail miserably.  You can have your own opinion, but you cannot have your own facts.  Almost certainly, if there was a chance to replay 2019, Boeing’s leadership would not do this again.  2019 was a horrible year for Boeing made worse by whomever made the decisions on communications.  Was it the top echelon, the lawyers, the crisis consultants?  Doesn’t matter – they all own it.

Don’t for one second think Boeing has hit the bottom yet. It won’t happen until full exposure of ALL the information on the MAX is out. While at it, Boeing’s cleanup crew would do well to throw in everything on KC-46, 787 and 777X as well.  Get it all out once and for all.  Only then can we say they have hit bottom and the recovery can begin.

Boeing’s decision makers have managed, within a year, to sow unprecedented distrust among all customers  – commercial, space and defense.  That is alarming and yet the stock hasn’t fallen in proportion. Perhaps a clue that demonstrates the “accepted truth” still prevails?

Boeing has to hit bottom for the recovery to start.  The only way we on the outside will know this has happened is when there is wholesale disruption among the top echelon.  The disruption will only start when those lower down realize their only hope to move out of the crisis is to expose those to blame for the crisis.  They know who is to blame. But they do not currently have the power to weed out managers above them.  Only whistle blowers and the brave can force out these decision makers by bringing truth to power.  

Exposure to daylight is what Boeing’s people need.  Only they can move the company forward from the dark place they are in.

Here is an excerpt from an email by Senator Cantwell on the MAX crisis and the latest revelations. 

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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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