The twist and turns of who is leading whom is the saga of every going concern. Boeing’s business history has had it all and found out what works and what doesn’t work. Listing all of Boeing’s past leaders would be an exercise for the reader or the writer but this story is about a philosophical perspective and will discuss in general terms using one of Boeing’s pst leaders named, Alan Mulally.
Wikipedia reports this on Alan Mulally:
“Mulally was hired by Boeing immediately out of college in 1969 as an engineer. He held a number of engineering and program management positions, making contributions to the Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and Boeing 777 projects. He led the cockpit design team on the 757/767 project. Its revolutionary design featured the first all-digital flight deck in a commercial aircraft, the first two-man crew for long range aircraft, and a common type rating for pilots on two different aircraft. He worked on the 777 program first as director of engineering and, from September 1992, as vice-president and general manager.”
He retired from Ford Motor Company as its CEO in 2014. He led Ford to a resurgence. He led Boeing on everything during the first decade of the 2000’s as provided briefly above. So what’s the magic of Alan Mulally? He was an engineer in an engineering world. There are different type’s industrial leaders. Those coming from the field of work experience, the accountants, and those trained as an example, engineers, in a specialty like aerospace.
Boeing was in the midst of “business storm" as early in the first decade of this century. The conventional wisdom said, "have an accountant as your leader and you will prosper as a company." Others say, "have a financial wizard and you will prosper, and finally the 911 call goes out and says get me somebody who knows what we are doing!"
Boeing went through these stages before settling in on Alan Mulally as its leader and then promptly lost him to a dying Ford Motor Company who is became a leader today in the auto industry while customers came flocking to Ford in droves. A "Sea Change" happened and it was part in due to an Engineer and partly due to Alan Mulally a Leader.
Demand for your product starts at a company's head, and Boeing had lost its head to financial metrics. The engineer wants a work bench or a cad. They talk to people who have grips about what works and what doesn’t. An engineer also has a vision of what could be made and what shouldn’t be made. Alan Mulally is an engineer. The problem here they ignore costs and only want a positive outcome regardless of costs. In comes the accountant leader who knows how to measure progress into oblivion with financial efficiency of a Scrooge.
In Boeing’s case an airplane begins to look like a suit an accountant would wear. They look at every piece of the program's puzzle. If an electronic switch costs too much, then find a cheaper switch and give up some of the first switches capability.
The problem becomes a conundrum between those who can invent and those who will prevent. Alan Mulally, threaded the needle leading with an inventor’s attitude. Accountants before Mulally had failed to save the company from loss. However, Alan was on the leading edge of spending Boeing’s capital through all its programs, including the 787 project.
Accountants had to find a way towards financial efficiency with an Engineer at the helm. Going the route of miser loses and going the route of a dreamer loses. Hence, a Dreamliner made a $30 Billion deferred costs pit. A balance had to be found and Boeing missed the balance between the two worlds until success could be found with its products.
The legacy Alan Mulally leaves is a company who does not want another moon shot like the 787, but it needs to keep pace with its obvious market demand or just get out of making airplanes when it can’t keep up with that market demand. Both Ford and Boeing have retained much of what Alan Mulally envisioned but they both keep a wary eye on over-doing it with its customers.
Both accountants and engineers can make a good or a great leader from its own expertise, but the best results come from a leader having the talent from within themselves in spite of their own subject matter training.