The Seattle area has one of the largest breakouts of the novel coronavirus in the United States, and 10 people have died in Washington State, versus one in California. News this afternoon indicates that the virus might have hit the Boeing Everett factory. An employee on the Boeing 777 line apparently has “flu-like symptoms”, and several employees who interacted have been sent home for quarantine.
The question now is what officials should do to prevent further spread. Is it time to shut the Everett facility for 14 days while these cases and the potential spread are evaluated? Strict measures worked to reduce the threat in China. Should they be implemented here?
Politicians in Washington State are debating whether drastic actions should be taken. The problem is those debates are also politically driven, looking at funding and political impact rather than the health of the general public. Meanwhile, firms like Microsoft have shut offices and have employees working from home, in an abundance of caution.
While politicians debate, Boeing could solve the problem within 14 days. Voluntarily shutting down the 777 operations, while not the first choice of most executives, would be a strong decision for Boeing’s new CEO David Calhoun. Doing so would indicate several things that would go a long way to enhancing the company’s image.
First, Boeing would be seen as putting community ahead of profits. Given the company’s now apparent history of putting profits before safety, this would be a positive change in image. Second, Boeing could quickly solve the problem. Not letting a one-day story become a multi-day addition to the ongoing MAX soap opera would demonstrate leadership and the ability to react quickly to solve problems. Again, a positive image for the company. Third, it would demonstrate that while politicians fiddle, responsible corporations can take quick action in the public interest, again a positive. Fourth, it would demonstrate to Boeing employees that the company truly cares about their well being. A statement that Boeing production isn’t as important as the families of employees would demonstrate that the company understands concerns and fears, and will do everything possible to keep families safe.
We urge David Calhoun to immediately shut the 777 assembly line and close the Everett facility for 14 days to ensure that a potential coronavirus doesn’t spread further. Crises like these are telling about true leadership.