Opinion

Remembering Alan Mulally's mantra: 'working together' | COMMENTARY

The current stalemate between The Boeing Co. and the IAM over the proposed union contract for the new 777X reminded me of the jacket in my closet.

It’s teal green and white, with the words “777 Working Together” embroidered on it.

I received that jacket back in the early ‘90’s when the original 777 program was launched. Those of us lucky to be on the new program all gathered in the Boeing Renton cafeteria for the kickoff.

On stage was our new leader. His energy and excitement permeated the crowd. With all of his charm, enthusiasm and positive words, what I remember most was his youthful smile. His name was Alan Mulally and he had only one message – “work together!”

“Working Together” became his mantra for the new program and he assured us if we embraced that concept, we would be successful.

It was an exciting and fun time. But the euphoria would soon fade as the reality of the hard work began – to design, manufacture and deliver Boeing’s newest innovative aircraft.

Over the years, developing an entirely new airplane from scratch often hit a snag or seemed overwhelming. Alan continually reminded us that by working together we could resolve any and all problems. He reiterated that mantra over and over in so many different ways, that we believed him.

To make it more fun, special gifts were given to those who came up with innovative ideas, or effort above and beyond. Which brings me back to the jacket – the most coveted of all the gifts. If you earned it, you wore it with great pride.

Alan left Boeing to become the CEO and president of the Ford Motor Co. in 2006. With him went that infectious spirit that inspired both management and the workforce – a unique style of leadership that Boeing has not seen since.

I’m from that earlier era when employees mattered. We were considered an essential part of the team and we responded by building one of Boeing’s best jets ever.

How ironic that the derivative to the 777, the 777X, will be built under the cloud of deep division, rather than the collaborative philosophy of a winning program. It’s now all about the bottom line.

And that line has now been drawn in the sand, as the IAM recently rejected a sudden mid-contract “take it or leave it” proposal from Boeing that would ensure it would be built in the Puget Sound area.

Without a blink, Boeing is out looking to other “wanna be” sites, states and workforce to fill a need that can be satisfied right under their nose by talented and dedicated employees.

It’s anyone’s guess when this deep chasm separating the company and its IAM members will close, or if it will. If it doesn’t, the cost will be painful to the company, its workforce and its customers.

Maybe what we need is a “wanna be” Alan Mulally – someone who can step in and sell the idea to both management and the IAM on how much can be accomplished if you are willing to work together.

I still cherish my jacket after all these years. It remains in the closet needing a new liner for all its wear and tear. It’s also much smaller than I ever remember being!

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