My Best Friend
by Bob Bogash
As Jim Blue went through a slow and debilitating decline in his health - debilitating to friends and family as well, and with uncertainty as to whether or not there would ever be a service when he passed on, I decided to scratch down some thoughts and remembrances. If there ever was a service, I could easily use up an hour's time or more, so maybe this is the way to go. If he had gotten better, I'd have given it to him. Either way, it allows me to share some of my personal thoughts, memories, and experiences with this remarkable man.
This is a 40 year diary. Crazy stories about a crazy guy - a guy I fell in love with. Don't know why, and don't bother asking. The diary got a little longer than I expected, but what the hell. It could easily be twice as long. I spent almost 40 years with Jim. After thinking quite a bit about it, I can honestly say he was my best friend.
Besides spending almost 40 years working with him, and being retired around him, I got to spend many pretty good quality hours with him over the last year of his life. Sometimes people pass and you wish you would have said something more, could have told them you loved them, when they were alive, and so forth. I have no such feelings for Jim - we shared a lot in the last few weeks and we each knew how we felt about each other. There was a lot of love.
Oh. One more thing. I'm old enough, have enough white hair, to have been around the block a few times,....and I'm retired, so this is kind of a straight talk narrative. If you're offended, join the Now Crowd - it seems everyone gets "offended" about something these days. If you're offended, quit reading! One of my favorite books is a Harry Truman biography called "Plain Speaking." Harry knew how to say what was on his mind! So here goes some Plain Speaking.
Lastly, I lived through these events, and have told them truthfully, as I saw them unfold. A born pack-rat, I have letters, memos, charts and such, substantiating the things I have described. But, it is still a work from my vantage point. Others may see things differently. As they say, that's what makes horse-racing.
Jim could cuss the with the best of them. So it would be difficult to write these stories without a lot of bleeping. I'll bleep out some of the worst, -- maybe, but I can't bleep out everything. Nor do I want to. That would be removing all the spices from the dish!
It's no accident Jim was such a good cusser. He started early. In 2000, Jim made a 75 page oral history. He talked into a tape recorder and then Jeanne Ann hired a typist to put it all down. She gave me a copy.
In the middle of the first page, Jim starts explaining about the cussing. It was 1932 and he was barely 3 years old, when a Kansas neighbor named Tom O'Neil taught him “some very good cuss words as a little kid, and thought it was pretty funny....he used to pay me for cussin', and nobody knew about that, and he never admitted it. A nickel or a dime depending on how good it was.”
After that, Jim went into the Marines, and then worked in the Boeing Wichita factory, so you could say his cussin' education was then pretty complete!
Jim Blue must have known more jokes and stories than anyone on the planet. More than that, he could reach into that big memory bank and trot out just the right one for any particular situation. I knew him so well, I knew a lot of them by heart. When we were alone, say traveling or something, and a situation arose, we'd just tell the Punch Lines, and then we'd both crack up. Sometimes we did that in meetings. Other people must have thought we were nuts. Well, we were, in a way; but, who cares!
I'd love to tell you a few, but they were largely X rated, crude, sexist, inappropriate, and all the other buzz words they use these days. Just one of these on Company premises today, and you'd probably be escorted off the property. More's the pity.
OK, OK, I will tell just one – about the coon hunter who had a deadly coon dog named Old Blue. ( Of course!) When a tree'd coon would get shaken out of a tree, Old Blue would give him a quick dispatch with a devastating bite to the, er, crotch. One day, the hunter climbed a tree to shake out a particularly stubborn coon, while his friends waited on the ground surrounded by a bunch of baying hounds. Suddenly, the hunter fell out of the tree. As he fell, he screamed these immortal last words to his pals below:
“Shoot Old Blue !!!”
That punch line, tailor made for Jim, carried us around the world dozens of times.
Jim Blue was one of the smartest guys I ever met. Now, that didn't immediately jump out at you. For some people, it never jumped out at all ! He was a great student of history (also one of my favorite subjects.) And he had an extraordinary memory. He was a voracious reader, and remembered what he read.
A typical trip with Jim went something like this. Show up at the airline First Class Lounge, headed for Tokyo, Frankfurt, Cairo, or wherever. Jim had a department store shopping bag with his carry-ons, the kind with the rope-like handles. The bag was filled with a dozen books, big hardcover heavy books, books on baseball, wine, business management, European history, political biographies. He'd read 'em enroute. He always underlined sections and wrote a lot of margin notes.
We'd ride around somewhere, say in Europe. He was always telling you stories, stories about his growing up in Kansas, stories about Boeing history, stories about the history of the region we were in. I swear he knew the history of every monarchy in Europe, who lived when, who was married to whom, what war occurred when, who killed who. The same in the Middle East. And Japan. All, off the top of his head. It was all very impressive. I'm a guy who likes details and accuracy. I don't like B.S. He wasn't spouting any.
Jim was also quite a wine connoisseur. He was, I believe, a graduate of the French fine wine organization The College du Taste du Vin. He liked good hunting dogs, all animals in general, bird hunting, expensive shotguns and antique cars, single malt scotch whiskey and Cuban cigars.
Our first meeting
I first met Jim in 1969-70 in Montreal, when he and George Nible showed up in town as the new big wigs in the Customer Support organization. I was a Boeing Field Rep. They were a BIG change from the old guard that had been running the department for many years - a big change to say the least! Jim sported a big Fu-Manchu mustache and a TACAMO (Take Charge and Move Out) attitude.
From that day to today, I have often wondered what we saw in each other. We are the original "Odd Couple." I tended to be quiet, studious, hard-working, a perfectionist. Jim was a "pedal to the metal" kind of guy, hard-charging, rule-bending - his approach to life reminded me of the Men's Downhill Skiing Finals at the Olympics. 'On the edge' is the term used, and very appropriate.
Many in the organization resented his arrival and many chafed under his presence. He had a different management style, that's for sure, and worse yet, he brought in a lot of his old cronies, who tended to operate just the way he did. I was young and not quite sure what to think. I'd say my opinions migrated over the years, from negative, to positive, to today's -- very positive.
Jim is very 'rough around the edges' and requires a lot of observing before you start to figure out what's really there. Sort of like Michelangelo at the marble quarry, studying blocks of marble to discern that, yes, the great statue of David actually resides somewhere inside that stone. Some people, maybe most people, never have studied him enough to figure it out. Too bad. To them, he may come on as crude, loud, dumb - a country bumpkin or a flim-flam man. They would be wrong. I know. I've watched and studied this man for almost 40 years. I've sat in his office, been in his meetings, traveled to the 4 corners of the globe with him. To use one of his favorite expressions "Everybody's got a few chinks in their armor." Believe me, he had more than just a few, -- but there was a huge reservoir of substance lying just below the surface.
Jim was born lucky. If you were around him for a while, you figured it out. Timing is everything they say; well, he always had it. He could buy and sell stocks and capture the top and bottom eighth of a point. Boeing promotions - same thing. Always at the right place at the right time. It was amazing. Fred Cerf used to quote an old German or French saying about lucky people, which translated to “He was born with a horseshoe up his ass.”
You could see this in a hundred ways, big and little. It always astounded me. There was an irksome traffic lite leaving our Lynnwood office building. Any time, day or nite, I used to get stuck for 5 minutes at that damned lite. When I rode with Blue, he'd make it -- every time. Every time.
If we went over to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, I'd drive around and around looking for a parking spot. If he drove, he'd pull in and find the first spot next to the door. His bag was always the first one off the airline baggage carousel. Always!
He had a blue Corvette convertible, and on nice summer days, he'd figure out a reason to go visit “T.” So we'd pile in his car, put the top down, and go the long way around, down 405, up 5 at 100 mph, then screeching into the garage under Headquarters. He'd take me with him so I could meet T and so Wilson would get to know me. They'd yak about something they both knew was a made-up subject. Wilson was as good a cusser as Blue, so the two of them had a fine time. And so did I!
One day, we had a meeting in Everett. I drove with Jim up there from Renton. Gray Clark had some other meetings, so he drove his own car. Jim got in the left lane on 405 and floored it. Gray was following behind. No carpool lanes in those days, and a lot less traffic. When we got to the meeting, Gray was 20 minutes late. He came in all red-faced. “Damn you Blue,” he muttered. “What took you so long?” Jim asked. “Got stopped by the State Patrol for going 20 over, Dammit.” Blue had sailed right through – he was going 30 over,...or more! “Shouldna' been driving so slow”, Jim came back, twisting the already painful knife. Jim did have a rather large collection of tickets however.
A while later, again in Everett, Jim told me he had to have some welding work done on his Mustang over in Snohomish. He asked me to follow him and bring him back to the office. So, we headed out, me following. North on 5 and then across the trestle. Jim began picking up the pace – 60-70-80 mph. At 80, I remembered Gray Clark's experience, so I backed off. Jim just kept pushing the gas pedal down, musta hit 100, and disappeared out of sight.
There was a small problem, however, I didn't know where he was going! So I got off Highway 2 at Bickford, and cruised down through Snohomish, looking left and right. Then back the other way, and then the other way again. I couldn't find a welder, a garage, or Blue! Now this was a fine kettle of fish. No cell phones in those days. Jesus, I couldn't see going back to the plant without him; what the hell was I supposed to do? Dumb shit doesn't tell me where he's going, and then makes it impossible to follow him!
Finally, one last long shot – I crossed the river and cruised slowly down past Harvey Field. And there was Blue! Standing impatiently next to the road, he jumped in the car, giving me a big rash of shit “Where the hell have you been, goddam it? Whats'amatter, can't you keep up???” “Not me, Blue”, I told him, “you may have that horseshoe up your ass, but I'm not getting any tickets. Besides which, it would have been nice if you told me where you were going. Next time, I'll leave you flat, dumb shit!”
We really did talk that way to each other. There was never any offense taken. Either way. Maybe that's one of the things he saw in me. I wasn't one of the usual kiss-ass types. Like the home plate umpire - "I calls 'em like I sees 'em." I never realized this until Jim's final illness. When we'd go to see him, he would really perk up, and we would grouse and swear like a couple of grizzly bears circling for an opening. Like the time he kept telling me to move some imaginary antennas in his hospital room. Everyone else was humoring him. I said “Look, there ain't no goddam antennas, now knock this shit off!” He laughed.
I didn't think anything of it. Afterwards, it was my wife, Dot, who picked up on all this. She had never seen us at our snarly best. She was amazed. After 40 years, some of the mystery was being cleared up. Maybe...............
Sometimes Jim would demonstrate an amazing amount of trust in me. I'm not saying that to toot my horn. It was a fact. I don't know why. Maybe, it was because he told me a lot of things and I kept my mouth shut. I always figured what went on in his office stayed in his office. Seems like there were always guys walking around passing on info they got from the Big Boss, as if that pumped up their egos and made others think they were big shots.
Sometimes, it had the opposite effect. While selling used airplanes, the guy in the next office was the PMO director (that's Program Management Office, for you non-Boeing types.) He loved to eat in the EDR (Executive Dining Room) and rub elbows with the so-called great and near-great. He was forever announcing what Condit or Thornton had told him, and often did it in Blue's staff meeting. Since the guys he was quoting were Jim's bosses, this rankled Jim quite a bit.
Jim was good at giving "feedback", and he told this guy to knock it off. Of course, he didn't, so Blue canned him. He went over to be the PMO for Ron Woodard who ran Materiel (Purchasing.) Now he started a whisper campaign bad-mouthing Blue for getting rid of him. Word to the wise: Gossip gets around. For here came Blue, taking over Materiel from Woodard. Guess what? He got to fire this guy twice!
Anyhow, back to trust. I came out of the Field in 1978 and took a job in Customer Engineering in Renton. One day, I got a call from Jim. Hadn't seen or talked to him in quite a long while, but he was, like T. Wilson, a guy who reached down through the layers of the corporation and called whoever it was that he knew could get a job done for him. Anyhow, he was off somewhere, Tehran, Damascus, Cairo. I don't remember where. I think he had 5000 people in his organization, so wondered why he tracked me down.
He gave me all his bank account numbers and told me to go over to Headquarters to the Corporate Secretary's office - I think it was Prince. There, I was to pick up a big envelope with his annual Bonus and checks for stock options he had exercised and cashed. (No Direct Deposit in those days.) I was to sort through all the papers and endorse all the checks to his account, then take them across the street to the Credit Union (used to be right across East Marginal Way from Headquarters), and deposit them in his accounts. Then I was to hang on to all the paperwork till he got back.
So, I went out to my car (a mile away in the 'back Forty), and drove to Headquarters. Prince was amazed that anyone would entrust all this stuff to someone else, especially a low-light Paycode 4 like myself. We joked a little about my heading for Sea-Tac to catch the next flight to Rio, and then I went over to the Credit Union, and did as Jim had asked.
Well, it was sort of like being in the Ladies Dressing Room; it was hard to be doing this without seeing what was going on. I mean I couldn't exactly close my eyes. Anyhow, it was a lot of money, I mean A LOT!!! I don't remember the exact numbers, but I do remember what I was making at the time. Some fast mental arithmetic made it clear I'd have to work for many years at my current rate to get that much money. Maybe the rest of my career......
So, I guess you could say he trusted me..... Now that Jim is gone, I guess I can tell that story.
In later years, after we were both retired, I took him to a lot of doctors, and such, and in a real mark of trust, took, or went with him when he needed to have some of his best friends – his precious dogs – euthanized at the vet. Those were some tough and tearful days, and we shared them together. He and Jeanne Ann trusted me and knew I would understand. And I did.
A Unique Management Style
They send managers to school these days to learn how to be good managers. Many don't have a clue. Jim Blue knew how to do it, and he didn't have to go to school to do it. Jim took care of his guys. So, they'd do anything for him. Maybe he learned some of that from guys like Wilson and Stamper. I dunno. In any event, he sure practiced it. Loyalty is a two-way street. He knew it and he practiced it. And when I say that, let me tell you that there were, on occasion, top managers who wanted my ass fired. Blue ran interference and kept me on the payroll. And I don't think he ever mentioned these situations – I just heard through the grapevine. Like I said, Loyalty is a two-way street.
Jim always had good finance and personnel people around him, and he used them when it came time for raises. He decried the “Skippy” system used by most managers – you know Skippy peanut butter. Under that scheme, if the Merit pool was 3%, the managers took out their knife and applied the 3% to everyone in the organization – like spreading peanut butter.
Instead, Blue preferred the T. Wilson system. “T” had put out an edict one time and Jim had it framed. It said:
“I believe in giving Above-Average-Performers, Above Average Raises
Average Performers, No Raises
Below-Average-Performers, the Pink Slip!”
Jim was fast and cunning when it came to Merit raises. No sooner did the pool come out, than he had it all allocated and assigned. And, he didn't worry about either limits or allocations. He usually managed to overspend. That meant if the pool was 3%, he would spend 4%. The rest of the organizations were taking their sweet time doing Totems and figuring out what to pay and to whom. Jim was done, and the slow managers found themselves either having their pools cut back, or having to beg Corporate for more money. Jim didn't care; he let H.R. sort it all out.
I came to work for Jim making $34,000. Within 2 years, I was at $50K. About 3 years later, I passed $100K. I worked hard for Jim. He knew it, and he paid accordingly.
Boeing has a hierarchy with regard to offices: location, size, and furniture. Jim didn't care. If you worked for him, you got a big office and nice furniture. Didn't matter what grade level or paycode you were. He let Facilities and H.R. sort it all out. His wishes ALWAYS prevailed!
Boeing vice-presidents ride First Class. Everyone else rides Coach (domestic) or Business Class (foreign.) If a vice-president is traveling with another employee (not a vp), he has the option of upgrading that employee or down-grading his own ticket (fat chance!) I've traveled with a lot of Boeing vice-presidents. They rode in the front; I rode in the back. Every one of them. Every one except Blue, that is. If you traveled with Jim, you got an automatic upgrade. He didn't care if there were 5 guys flying with him.....or 10. There was never any of this you ride in the back routine. Never!
Organizations and Job Titles
At some point in his life, Jim became enamored with a certain phrase: Logistic Support.
Maybe he even had that title, maybe in Minuteman, I don't know. I became aware of it when he was running a big Boeing Customer Support organization that was supporting airlines in the Middle East. Boeing was a big roller in that part of the world in those days. Iran Air, Iraqi Airways, MEA, Syrian Arab, Saudia, Royal Jordanian, Egyptair, TunisAir, Algerian, Royal Air Maroc, Kuwait Airways, on and on. We had that place locked up tight. And we weren't just selling airplanes, we had big crews of people in country, - mechanics, spares clerks, flight crews, planners, etc We were providing a total turn-key operation in some cases.
Anyhow, that was called Logistic Support. Ever afterwards, as he sucked me along with him from job to job, at some point I would always get the title of Director of Logistics Support. I'd ask him “What the hell is Logistic Support?” And he'd say, “Beats the hell out of me! I don't know, and the important part is, no one else knows either!”
“Blue,” I'd say, “I need a Job Description.” “What in the hell for,” he would roar. “Job Descriptions are limiting,” he'd say, “they keep you from doing things. First thing you know, some turkey comes along and tells you you can't do something..... 'cause it ain't your job.”
“Write your own job description,” he'd say, “Just don't show it to anybody.”
Study the above. There's a hell of a lot of wisdom in those paragraphs.......
Just before Christmas break every year, Jim personally bought presents for all his reports and took them out to lunch. He thanked each one for their work over the past year and wished them a joyous holiday season. These presents weren't cheap and he paid for them all out of his own pocket.
The only "legal" use of the Totem
Some of Jim's many personal presents to his Directors over the years - most with Totems!
Bolo tie and Belt Buckle - both pewter
Every year on my birthday, I got a hand-written birthday note from Jim, and then he'd take me out to lunch. Every year. Never failed. So did all his other direct reports. He knew everybody's birthdays, and their wives names, and their kids, and on and on. This was a man who really cared.
At some point, I figured it was a two way street. His subordinates usually organized a birthday lunch for him – we'd go to a Mexican joint, and he would chow down big time (he could really eat!) And, I'd give him a present – usually a book on baseball or old cars, two of his passions. After we were both retired, we continued the birthday lunch routine. Over the years, I built up quite a library for him. This continued right up until the end.
Just three weeks before he died, I gave him a book on Cars of the Fifties. All gift wrapped etc. He loved to tear the paper off, and he did it one more time in the nursing home. He flipped through the pages, and each new picture brought on a big story, about a car he owned, or his brother, or Dad. A few days later, he was looking at some pictures with his daughter Pam. “I wish Bob were here to see this,” he said. “Bob Bogash?” she asked. “Hell, Yes!”, was his reply.
I tried to practice a lot of what Jim taught me with my subordinates. I didn't do near as good a job, because he was the Master. I did have even first line supervisors in Senior Manager sized offices, however. If they reported to me. I was amazed at how much I could actually get away with. But then, I had a good teacher!
Expect a lot, and reward accordingly. Value loyalty and remember it's a two-way street. Pay for performance. It's the Tiger Woods system – what's so tough about that?
Jim earned a lot of money over the years, and he didn't mind spending it. When he opened his wallet, moths didn't fly out! He traveled a lot and on almost every trip, brought back things for people he knew or worked with. Like his stories, he tailored the gifts to the person and the moment. Many times, while on the road, we'd go shopping, and when he saw something he liked, he might buy two or three of them, or maybe a dozen! On at least one occasion, he got into big trouble with U.S. Customs at SeaTac while doing that – I'll keep that story in my “Not-to-be-Told” file!
Once, while visiting Wichita, he went to a farm auction in Yoder, Kansas. There, he saw something he figured I ought to have, a “Kansas Leaning Stick.” What the hell's that, you ask. It's about a five foot wood stick with the ball piece from a set of work horse hames on the top. He said you place your hands on the ball, lean your chin on your hands, and (assuming you have the right kind of bib-overalls), you lean on the thing when you're at the farm auction! So he bought it and brought it back for me. Could have used it in staff meetings!
One of Boeing's major suppliers was Rockwell down in Oklahoma. One day in 1986 found us visiting their Tulsa facility. Jim always made time on his trips for something other than straight business – something I had to force myself to do. His philosophy was: You may only pass through but once; you ought to come away with something more than a canceled Boarding Pass. Anyway, he decided we should drive out in the country and visit Claremore, Will Rogers home town. Will Rogers always started his routines with “Is there anybody here from Claremore?”
We went through the Museum. While in the gift shop, Jim came upon a brass and wood plaque with a Will Rogers quote on it. It said,
“A man that don't love a horse, there is something the matter with him.”
Jim knew well my love of horses, and of Prince, my big Belgian draft horse, that we had on our farm – Charley Horse Ranch. “This is perfect for you,” he said. “Boy,” I replied, “it sure is!” Then I flipped it over. I thought the price was outrageous. “They must be nuts,” I said and put it back on the shelf.
Comes my next birthday, Jim gave me a wrapped present. Opening the paper, .....yup....., you guessed it, there was that plaque – the one I was too cheap to buy for myself. That plaque has a very treasured spot on my wall as I write.
Now..........., how could you not love a guy like that?
Jim was the only boss I ever had, and maybe one of the only people I ever knew, who was flexible enough in his thinking, that he could change his mind. Knowing him as well as I did, I knew you had to 'lay the groundwork.' Sometimes, I'd go in and say I wanted to do this or that, promote someone, or change jobs. Jim thought real well, but sometimes, he didn't listen too good. And he had a short fuse. I'd say something like "you know, I'm thinking about moving Jones over to the FAA job." Kaboom! He'd be off! "Jones, not Jones, you've got to be f***n crazy. No way!!!"
Next day, or a few days later, he'd get hold of me - "You know, I've been thinking, Jones is the perfect guy for that FAA job."
We often had discussions about the merits, or lack of merit, of various baseball players and managers. Usually our opinions were 180 out, but over time, he would often come around. Finally, he would say something like, “You know, you were right all along, Piniella really is a dud. We need a new manager.” I'd savor that, but never rub it in. He knew that I knew....
Another thing Jim did was give "constructive criticism" ----- and not hold a grudge. He gave it continuously, in real time. Not those formal once-a-year sessions that the head-shed likes. Since I skated on the edge myself, many times, -- too many perhaps --, I found myself occasionally called to his office. The door would be closed and he'd tear a strip off my hide a mile wide. Sometimes, .............well, sometimes, I even deserved it.
With any other boss, after a session like that, you might as well go back to your office and pack your things. Commit Hari Kari. Clearly, your career was over.
Not with Jim. He'd rip you up one side and down the other. When he was done, he'd smile and say "Hey, let's go get a burger", and we'd go over to Red Robin.
Sometimes Jim got more involved in organizational details than he should have, or that I liked. Jim was like the General Manager or even the owner of a baseball club – say like George Steinbrenner of the Yankees. I was like the Field Manager, sort of like Joe Torre. Sometimes George would hire an over-paid, so-called star off another team and “give” him to Joe. When the new player turned out to be a dud, Joe got the phone call! Jim used this system on more than one occasion.
Sometimes, I got real turkeys. They would be disruptive in the clubhouse, so to speak, and some of them aspired for my job, any which way they could get it. They made running the shop difficult at best, and sometimes it would take me a year or two to get rid of them.
Not all were duds, but they weren't my selection, that's for sure. One that especially comes to mind was a flight line guy who I worked with on a 737 world sales tour. Well, the 747-400 was having a lot of birthing pains and was way behind schedule. The Company had been conned by Northwest, or KLM, or a bunch of airlines, into essentially creating a new airplane – a two pilot glass cockpit with a lot of 757/767 doo-dads. The problem was the schedule was for a simple derivative. An extra year was really needed, a year that had not been built into the development timetable! And, then they low-balled the engineering man-hours needed.
The rubber always meets the road in these situations, and it did here. Top management (who created the problem) got more and more anxious. Finally, at a big Friday meeting at the head shed in Renton, it was “announced” that the airplane would fly by a certain date, come hell or high water. I think it was in March 1989. “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Bill Shineman was the General Manager at Everett, and he got the edict.
He called a meeting of all his reports out on the Flight Line at 6 AM, Saturday morning. (My Boeing career was filled with those 6 AM meetings!) In that meeting, he announced that the airplane would “be in the air by March no matter what.” One of the guys there, who ran the Flight Line said “Bill, the only way that airplane will be in the air on that date, is if it's on jacks!”
Bill was a great guy, but was under a lot of pressure, and didn't see any humor in that reply, however accurate it might be. He left the room and went into a nearby office. There he called Blue at home. A few minutes later, about 6:15 Saturday morning, I woke up to my phone ringing. It was Jim. “Do you know so-and-so?” he asked. “Yeah, I do,” I replied. “Good,” he said, “He works for you now. He'll be in your office Monday morning. Find him a job!”
And, that's the way it went. While this was a minor annoyance for me, there was a larger force at work here, and not a positive one. Management guru Bill Conway used to say “Management makes the system; the employees operate in the system.” This theorem applies to every level. In this case, Shineman sent a message I'm sure all the other Directors in the room got loud and clear.
Don't tell the boss something he doesn't want to hear.
And, from my observations, no one did for the rest of the early life of that program........................
Succession Tables are a ranked listing of replacement people for all higher management positions. They are painstakingly created about once a year after many, long meetings of Totem and Job Skill Captains – individuals responsible for large groups of employees in various labor grades and job skills. These days, all kinds of diversity and affirmative action goals are over-laid onto the exercise. The result is a book of ranked names that are to be candidates for significant job openings. The creation of these lists took endless hours of discussion and negotiation.
There was one big problem with these lists. They were rarely used in real life. Maybe NEVER used! Jim Blue sure didn't use them, and his management superiors didn't use them either. (I discuss this later in this reminiscence package.) I myself benefited, if that is the word, from this practice, since my quick Jim Blue mandated job changes were never in accordance with the Succession Tables. If they had been, he would have been forced to accept some other turkey. I would have been left behind. And, of course, when Jim himself left, the names on his replacement table were ignored.
After months of meetings with the other Division Quality Directors, we arrived at a list of people to be named as replacement Directors or Senior Managers. I would then give this consensus list to Jim for sign-off. As I found out somewhat later, Jim merely crossed out all the names, so carefully negotiated and arrived at, and wrote in his own names. It didn't take long to figure out that top management were ignoring these lists all together.
I had a lot of work to do, and couldn't afford to waste a bunch of time that wound up, in one of Jim's favorite phrases, as a “circle jerk.” After a year or two, I quit going to the negotiating meetings. One day, I got a new H.R. Support person, an exceptionally capable lady named Reed Morris. After she was on board for a while, she came to me one day and said we'd have to start working up the new round of Succession Tables. I told her I didn't DO Succession Tables. Reed was flabbergasted. “What do you mean you don't DO Succession Tables?,” she asked. “It's required!”
I told her the story and the reasons why I didn't participate. She understood, and never bugged me about them again.
While on this
subject, let me yak a bit about the idea of promoting by committee. Jim Blue
tugged me along with him from job to job to job. For the most part, I never had
a choice. Some people think this smacks of cronyism, or the good-old-boy
network. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You can see this a lot in sports. Professional sports is an excellent metaphor for the rest of life. If you study sports coaches, you see guys like Chuck Knox, Lou Piniella, or Bill Parcels, moving from team to team - and, lo and behold, they bring many of their coaches with them. A lot of players too. Admirals and Generals do it as well. And so do politicians. It was no accident that Bill Clinton had a lot of people from Arkansas, or George Bush has folks from Texas.
The answer is simple. While these people might not be perfect, they ARE known quantities, with job skills that are well known and understood. The Head Coach can get on to managing the overall team, knowing that the Offensive Coach, or the Defensive Coordinator, are taking care of business, and getting their part of the job done. Sometimes, it's just "better the Devil known, than the one unknown." Nobody wants to fail. Everybody wants to be successful, to get Adda-boys, raises, and promotions (or Super Bowl rings, etc.) So very few people (but, not all!), will reach out and bring along a dud from their past. The people working for you, in large measure, determine how successful you will be in any endeavor.
Now, as to whether that precludes unknowns, women, or minorities from advancing in the world, let me quote again something told to me a long time ago by my friend Jim Blue. He said "You can't hide excellence! You can hide incompetence, and some people do, sometimes for an entire career. Timing and Luck play a big role as well. But, you can't hide excellence. If you're smart, work hard, and do a good job, people are going to notice, and the raises and promotions will take care of themselves." It's the Horatio Alger story, and simplistically, or naively, or determinedly, I've believed that all my life. It didn't always play out like in the novels, but that's "their problem", and not mine. They needed to check the "facts."
Finally, there's the matter of "type-casting." Many Hollywood actors detested certain of their movie or TV series roles, often highly successful ones at that, because they wound up being type-cast. Their careers became truncated or abridged because producers, directors, or the general public came to associate them with a single role, and their wider skills could never be brought forth. This was an anchor they dragged around behind them for their whole lives. All of us suffer from this to some extent. I know I did. My reputation was of being a micro-manager, unable to delegate, very demanding, and hard on people. Very little of that was true, in my opinion, but then again, most people when confronted with those "charges" would try to deny them. I did demand a lot of myself, and expected high standards of excellence in the products of my organization. And, I freely admit, one of my biggest weaknesses is "suffering fools poorly." I make no apologies.
Nevertheless, the proof of the pudding in this situation, is not the perceptions of upper management (however harmful that may ultimately be to one's career), but in the facts. As I moved from job to job with Blue, I reached back to my past assignments and recruited people from my old organizations. Now, this was their big chance to throw up their hands and happily proclaim "Good-riddance to that S.O.B. We thought he'd never leave!" In fact, about a dozen of my key subordinates followed me, with no coercing whatsoever, from job to job to job. Some had been with me for 10-15 years. I'll leave that there and let the history speak for itself.
In any event, this long digression addresses the subject of Succession Tables and Committee Promotions. I brought people along with me because I felt they could do the job, not because they were my pals. I guess you could say Jim Blue did too.
I mentioned that Jim used to skip protocol and tap people anywhere in the Company to get a job done. In September, 1984, I was working for Dick Taylor. I hadn't had a vacation in a long time - emergency crash projects kept cropping up - and I had whined to Dick that I needed a vacation. So I took three weeks off starting the end of September, so I could work at the Draft Horse Show at the Monroe Fairgrounds. After lunch on the first Monday, my wife Dot went down to Safeway, and I was home when the phone rang. Ha! I knew what that was, so I didn't answer it. I had been down this road before. But it rang and rang, and rang. Maybe Dot's in trouble, I thought, so I picked it up. Jim was on the other end. I think it must have rang 10-20 times. Not too many people hang on so long. "How come you let it ring so long", I asked. "Figured you needed time to come in from the barn," he said. Then he got right to it: "Is your Passport up-to-date?" he asked. "Yeah", I replied (a BIG mistake!). "Good, meet me in the United First Class lounge at 6 o'clock. Pack for a couple of weeks." Then he hung up.
Dot came home with the groceries an hour or two later. I had shaved and showered and my suitcases were sitting in the entry. "What's this?" she asked, rather incredulously. "Blue called", I said, "Gotta leave for the airport in about an hour. I'll call you when I learn more details. Be gone a few weeks." "But you don't work for him." "Dot, you don't understand. I'm like a fireman, and the Alarm bell rang - I've got the hat and the boots, the only thing I don't have is a brass pole!"
So, we went over to Hannover and Toulouse. Boeing had taken three brand new A310s in trade for 767s, and Jim gave me the job of picking them up at the Airbus factory and putting them in storage with Hapag-Lloyd in Hannover, West Germany, until they could be re-sold. So, I did. Now that's a story in its own right, but I can tell you Airbus was none too pleased to have Boeing tramping around their factory as owners of some new airplanes right on their production line! We had one especially memorable meeting with Bernard Zeigler, one of their top-dogs, in the latter's office over-looking the Airbus flight line. That story for another day..............
After this little escapade was accomplished, my vacation time was over, and I went back into the office – of course, I was still working for Taylor. Dick was none too happy with my moonlighting. "You whined about needing a vacation, and then you go work a job for Blue", he opined.
Now tell me, Whadda ya supposed to do???
The Little Guy
Jim had a real empathy with the little guy. He had a lot of money, and he spent it, but he knew not everyone had those resources. And he remembered his roots. It bugged him when well-to-do folks imposed on those less well-to-do. For example, on the retirement of a certain Boeing vp, the price of admission included a large donation to buy a very fancy gift as a going away present. It irked him no end to see, as he put it, "low paid people being levied upon in order to buy this fancy toy for a guy who could afford to buy the factory where they made these toys."
It was sort of like when they give fancy cars to high paid ball players.
I'll give you another example. A better one. While sitting in his office one day, about 1992 or so, we got to talking about a certain Boeing exec - now dead. I told him a story about when I was in the Field in Montreal, this guy came to town to visit the airline I was assigned to. It was in 1968. We went out to dinner, but before the dinner, we sat in the hotel bar and had a few drinks - a group of the Boeing and airline people. When it came time to go to the restaurant, he asked me to pick up the tab - he would repay me in the morning.
Well, he stiffed me on it. Picked up the receipt too, and probably turned it in on his expense report. The bill was about $100. Now to give you an idea, my monthly apartment rent was $93; I think I was making about $7200/year. I didn't dare send this big bar bill into Boeing. So I ate it.
When I told Jim this story, it upset him so much that he took out $100 and tried to pay me back. Never mind that this had happened nearly 25 years earlier, and that I was now making over $100,000.
'Ya see what I mean?
There were a lot of Boeing vice-presidents who acted like their poop didn't smell, if you know what I mean. Jim wasn't one of them. He mowed his own lawn, and cleaned his own gutters. While over at his house one day, he dragged me across the road to show me his newest project - he had built a treehouse for his grandson Michael. I was frankly amazed. It was built of 3/4 or 1 inch plywood sheets - heavier than hell. Never could figure out how he ever got them hoisted up there. It was very fancy. There was an entry trap door on the bottom with a wood ladder, and a long, horizontal, narrow window with a hinged cover along the front (to protect against Indian arrows!). Then he had painted an American flag, and the name:
Ft. Blue, U.S. Territory.
Of course, Michael was excited when he showed it to him - I think he was about 7 at the time. "Well, Grandpa," he said, "there's only one thing to do now." "Right!", Jim said. "What's that, Michael?" "We've got to sleep in it!" "Right", Jim said, without missing a beat. And so they did. Jim Blue, vice-president of Boeing, and his 7 year old grandson Michael, spending the night together sleeping on the floor of the treehouse - Ft. Blue, U.S. Territory.
'Ya see what I mean?
On the Road Again.....or, Traveling with Blue
One of our many trips led us to (the then) West Germany. He told me to meet him in the hotel lobby the next morning - Sunday - we were going on a trip to the East German border. Germany was still divided at that time. “Do you have a map?” I asked. “Sure!”, he said, “Waddya think? Sure I've got a map.” The next morning, about 9 AM, we set out. He was driving and I was navigating. We had a big Mercedes sedan. The East German border was about 150 miles away. "You said you have a map", I said, "can I have it?" "Sure", he said, and threw me a Lufthansa in-flight magazine! There, in the back were a few pages of route maps. No political boundaries even shown - just mountain ranges and rivers, etc. "Is this it?" I asked. "What's wrong with that?", he said, "You wanted a map, didn't you?"
Good thing it was a sunny day. We struck out from the hotel, past City Hall. The sun was in the east, so I figured we were heading south. Over the next few hours, we worked our way further and further east. Jim got impatient - what else is new? I knew we were really close. "Goddam it, you're lost", he blasted. "Bullshit" I said, "I know exactly where we are " (well maybe not exactly - but pretty damn close.) We headed into the woods, on a dirt road, past a couple of small logging camps. "Goddam it, you're lost" he thundered. "No, No", I said, "We're within a half mile, maybe just a few hundred yards. Trust me.” He continued giving me a hard time, when, out of the woods, we came on a big wood stockade. It looked like something from the Apache wars. We stopped and looked east. There, was a big half mile of 'no man's land'. We climbed the steps of the stockade and looked east, over moats, minefields, barbed wire. In the distance, we could see East German guards, ready to shoot anyone who tried to escape. After that, he didn't try to second guess my navigating.
This got tested one day when we were flying to Dallas, or Tulsa, or somewhere down there. We were on an American MD-80. I love to look out and navigate on airline flights. We passed Mt. Rainier. I said, we're just passing the Mountain, and it looks like we're passing through 18 thousand. Just then, the pilot came on and said "We're just passing Mt. Rainier and and climbing through 18,000 ft." A bit later, I said, "Hey, Blue, we're just passing your mountains!" "Waddya mean?" he asked. "We're just passing over the Blue Mts of NE, Oregon." Bing, the Capt came on and said, "We're just passing the Blue Mts of Oregon." That's the way the flight went. I said, "Hey, Blue, look at that, that's Promontory Point on the Great Salt Lake where they drove the Golden Spike, completing the Central Pacific - the first transcontinental railroad." Yup, a few seconds later, the pilot made the same announcement. "Goddam it", Jim said, "I think this guy's got your seat bugged!"
One evening, I found myself in Hannover, West Germany. Jim was flying in from Seattle. Hapag-Lloyd was storing 3 brand new A-310's Boeing had taken in trade. (The ones I mentioned before.) Dale Searcy and I went out to pick him up at the airport. Dale, having been there for a while, was driving. We collected Jim and his stuff about 9 PM and headed downtown for the hotel. To make a long story short, Dale got lost. It was easy to do. We drove around for a while -- quite a while. Jim was tired after the long flight, but after about an hour and half, snapped awake and said, "Goddam it, Dale, you're lost!" (I'd heard that line before!) It was only about a 20 minute drive downtown. Dale protested "Hell no, I'm not lost." We drove around some more. I didn't have a clue where we were. Blue really got on poor Searcy's case: "Goddam it, you're lost", to be followed by "Shit, no, I ain't lost."
Now, it was really getting pretty late. About 11:30, all of a sudden, Jim yelled out "STOP!" What was this all about, I wondered, trying to keep out of it, and trying to keep from falling asleep on this endless drive. "PULL OVER" he shouted. We pulled over at a taxi stand, with a line of cabs idling their engines. "Bogash," he cried, "get in one of those cabs and go to the hotel. We'll follow." What a marvelous and simplistic idea! Guess that's why he was the boss!
So I got out and got into one of the cabs. "Hotel Intercontinental" I said, and we started off. The driver was going a little fast, and looking back, I could see Dale was having a hard time following. I tried talking to the driver, but he couldn't speak one word of English. Finally, I pulled him on the shoulder and with sign language, pointed to the car behind us. "You're going too fast" I tried to explain "for them to follow us." After a lot of back and forth with zero communication, the driver finally understood. He understood there was a car following us and I wanted to "lose them." He immediately floored it and we left Searcy and Blue in a cloud of dust. We screamed around the night time streets and eventually screeched to a halt in front of the hotel. I paid the cabby, and went into the bar around midnite to have a drink and wait for them. After an hour or so, I gave up and went to bed. I have no idea when they got in. Maybe it was 6 in the morning. The next day, we met for breakfast. I said nothing. Nobody said anything. I never did find out when they arrived. I didn't want to know! Still don't.
A Man with Big Balls
While running Customer Support, Jim was presented with a big dilemma. Indian Airlines was a big customer, yet Indian Airlines had an abysmal safety record. They alone accounted for most of the hull-loss accidents involving the 737. Boeing sent out an audit team to review their maintenance and operations. They produced a report of recommendations to improve the safe operations at the airline. Jim stood up and agreed to take the report to them.
It was not well received.
In fact, Jim was declared persona-non-grata in India thereafter. In 1982, while taking the new 757 on a world tour, I had to drop Jim off in Kuala Lumpur while we proceeded without him to India, and pick him up again on our return through Singapore. He wasn't allowed in India.
Indian Airlines went on to switch their fleet to Airbus airplanes. While they have had no fewer than 15 accidents with the 737, they have gone on to have 8 more accidents with their Airbus fleet.
Jim, and Boeing, attempted to do what was right, even at the expense of selling airplanes.
Baseball Managers and Boeing Managers
Jim liked sports, and especially baseball. His father was a minor leaguer who could have gone up to the majors, but had a family to feed and so went to work at Boeing. Jim also played semi-pro ball, but he too had mouths to feed, and baseball sure didn't put food on the table in those days. (Not like now!!!)
Sports would make a good training analogy for managers, if they'd only take it. Especially Boeing managers. I used to give speeches on this very subject. Boeing worked more like the Army. You know, take a cook and make him a truck driver, and vice versa. For one thing, Boeing seemed to delight in giving a guy a job he was ill suited for and then knowingly watch him fail.
For another, Boeing was in love with Beauty Contests - Phil Condit seemed to be the mastermind behind this scheme. He started it in Sales, and later expanded it throughout the Company. If you wanted to hire a Salesman, you first vetted him or her in front of a committee. I called it the "search for the perfect spouse", an endeavor Phil was particularly skilled at. Too short, too fat, picks his nose, scratches his ass, -- there was always some fatal flaw. So we hired and promoted a bunch of TV news anchor people -- just the right look, dress, hairdoo, speaking voice, yadda yadda. The fact that they didn't know squat about the job never entered into it. Later on, EEO considerations began to become a big factor.
Their performance showed it. Peter Smutny was an example. Peter is a little short, and round, with a bit of an accent, etc etc. Somewhat height challenged they'd say these days. But, he was a great guy and could sell airplanes; he could also sell the proverbial icebox to the Eskimos. I traveled around a lot with Peter, and was in awe at his abilities.
When the Beauty Contests started, Peter found himself shuffled off to the side, replaced by some TV Anchorman type. After a while, Boeing started losing sales campaigns in Europe, and wondering why. I'm not sure they ever figured it out.
Jim thought all together different. Maybe it was the baseball mentality. When he was looking for a catcher, he wanted a guy who could catch. A left-handed pitcher? Find some guy who could pitch left-handed. Sounds pretty basic, but Boeing never figured it out. What they'd ask is: “Yeah, but can he pitch right-handed?” or “Can he catch too?” or “How about First Base?” Worse yet, the unstated question sometimes seemed to be “how tall is he?”, “how long is his hair?” or worst of all, what's their color, gender or ethnicity.
Jim not only assumed people couldn't play all positions, he took it as a given, and never let it bother him. Ty Cobb didn't exactly excel at “Works and Plays Well with Others!” Neither did Hyman Rickover or Curtis LeMay or a bunch of other high achievers. Jim only wanted to know if he could pitch. Duh! One of his favorite phrases was “Everybody's got a few warts.” Or, “Everybody's got a few chinks in their armor.”
No better example of that could be found than Used Airplane Sales. Boeing had taken 58 airplanes of assorted makes and types in on trade and had no way to sell them. They asked Jim to set up an organization, which he did. It was a small shop – I think we had only about 29 people total. Jim went out and hired a rogues gallery of misfits and back-water guys who had been internally exiled within Boeing. Maybe that's how I got into that shop! Some had had drinking problems or didn't 'work and play well with others.' But they COULD pitch! Or sell, do finance, marketing, etc etc. Jim would see a guy who could do a great job crunching financial numbers, and he would carefully shoe horn him into a position so he would get the max benefit from his abilities, while simultaneously shielding him from his weaknesses. It's like the old song: “You gotta accentuate the Positive, and eliminate the Negative.”
Does all this sound pretty elementary, my dear Watson? Of course it does! But what sports coaches know as Management 101, corporate managers are oblivious to. Instead we have “360 degree reviews” with everybody critiquing everyone else, subordinates rating their managers, and committees deciding who gets promoted, and who gets a raise. A permanent Beauty Contest. If you read Joe Sutter's book, you'll see that key players sometimes don't 'work and play well' with each other.
While on this topic, let me wander on a bit in this direction. When I came to work for Blue again, it was in Used Airplane Sales. I wanted to be an airplane salesman – I thought I could do a good job. But Phil Condit was Vice President of Sales and he convened one of his Beauty Contest Review Boards. I didn't pass muster. Must have been caught picking my nose or farting in public. Whatever. So Jim gave me the job of Marketing Manager, not needing a Blue Ribbon Approval from the Beauty Board.
In our inventory of airplanes, we had three 727-200s that had belonged to Sterling Airways in Denmark. They were exceptionally high gross weight airplanes – 211,000 lbs max takeoff weight. These airplanes had been hanging around for a number of years. For various reasons, Boeing just hadn't been able to unload them. They were stored in Wichita.
One day, Jim came to me and said, in his usual way “Goddam it, Bogash, get those airplanes off the lot!” I said, “Fine, Jim, how much do you want for 'em?” He said “Eight and a Half each” ($8.5 million). There were also 5 spare engines that he wanted half a million each for. Total - $28 million.
There was a guy I knew named Dave Sutton down at FedEx in Memphis. I called Dave and offered him the airplanes and engines. Dr. Velvet is his nickname; I still deal with him now, working on getting parts to restore the Museum's 727. (About 3 years ago, he gave me a retired FedEx 727 to use as a parts queen.) After a bit of used car dickering – I think I asked $10M each, we settled on $8.5M “Fine, send me a contract.” Although we had a big contracts and legal staff, I typed out a contract (which I still have) on my computer and faxed it to him. (I figured Logistics Support allowed me to write my own contracts!) It came back in a few hours signed. I walked into Blue's office pretty pleased with myself, and threw the signed contract on his desk. Cockily, I asked him what else he needed sold.
Now, this story has some more big time twists, which I'll mercifully skip for now. But I will say that Boeing salesmen don't get commissions; they're on something called the PAP Plan, that rewards sales successes with year end bonus type payments. Used Airplane salesmen, however, DID get commissions. We had 58 airplanes, and the commissions were $2600 for a narrow-body, and $4000 for a wide body.
Three airplanes times $2600 – Blue put me in for the commission – it was $7800. But Phil Condit, Jim's boss balked. He said I was not in a salesman's job classification (that's because I flunked the beauty contest), and therefore refused to pay the commission. Jesus, Blue was mad! Me,.... I was even madder.
Blue was not used to getting turned down like that and tried everyway possible to sneak it through, but Phil blocked him at every turn. So Jim switched gears, and put me in for a Special Incentive – a payment for a single exceptional job. The max is $5000, and that's what he put me in for. “Better'n nothing” he said. Got tripped up here again – since you can only get one of these per 12 months, and I had had one within that time period. Jim patiently waited for the 12 months to lapse and put the paperwork through again.
A few months passed while the paperwork got prayed over by the folks in Corporate Headquarters. Eventually, the big day, and a check arrived from the head shed. But wait, while getting prayed over, someone (maybe Phil) had cut the amount in half. Yes, the amount approved was only $2500. After the deduction for taxes, my check had shrunk to $1875. “Well”, Jim said, in his usual fashion. “What can I say about those cheap bastards? From $7800 to $1875. But, it's better'n a stick in the eye! Come on, lets go get a burger. You're buying.”
I might add – actually, I WILL add to this little story, that the Corporation had taken in all these airplanes and written them off to zero. Blue and his small group of misfits had sold them all over a two year period for $913 million. All of which flowed to the Bottom Line. Actually, if you check Boeing financials for the time period, you'll find that Blue's little crew represented essentially ALL of Boeing's profit at the time! $913 million and they chiseled me out of $5300. Blue was right. Cheap Bastards!
Communication – The “New” Way
You never really know what you have -- until you lose it. Isn't that what they say? After Jim left the Materiel Division (see the story later), I had a new boss. Well, we've all had 'em - good 'uns and bad 'uns.
Boeing entered an era where bosses knew little about the organization, and even less about the job at hand. But,....they were politically correct. Beauty Contest winners, I guess. That's what really counted at that point in the history -- and near demise -- of The Boeing Company. Maybe it still does! My philosophy was always Ben Franklin's - "Well Done" is better than 'Well Said.' The new philosophy seemed to be the reverse.
Many in the "new" management seemed oblivious to everything and anything except the rear end of their superiors. Based upon my experience, many knew no more about what their direct reports were doing than, well, as Patton said in the movie, "than they did about fornicating."
Staff Meetings used to be an information exchange. Jim Blue, the boss, told you what his boss had told him, and then, each of his subordinates got a chance -- as Blue used to say -- to "let the gas out of their bags." This was no trivial exercise. It was impossible to get all the Directors together at once, and this coordination was vital. Me, personally, I had problems that involved the other Directors - problems with the factory, with suppliers, with the airlines, with the FAA. Coordinating this with the other directors was essential.
These 'around the table' chances to share and discuss problems faded away. No more 'Round the Table.' Actually, no more participatory anything. It became a politically correct “Show and Tell.” The Agenda was well orchestrated and polished by the PMO. It NEVER had anything to do with 'real work.' Instead we worried about succession tables, and blood drives, and affirmative action goals, and on and on. Crapola. If you wanted to say something, you had to get on the Agenda. After applying to the PMO and his minions, maybe, in 3-4 weeks, you could get a small slot. By then, of course, it was way toooooo late. And even then, at the last minute, your time would be switched to something else, like the percentage contributions to the United Way or some such. This was extremely frustrating. No one was tending to the knitting.
And, if I tried to see "The Boss"? Well, I had to get on his Calendar. Which was closely controlled by the PMO and his helpers. With Blue, I'd just walk in. Now I needed an audience with the Pope. And I couldn't get one! (Actually, I once did get an audience with the Pope, the REAL Pope, and as I recall, it took less than one week to arrange it too!)
Frustrated, I started writing a couple of imaginary books. One was entitled “Airbus is Gonna Win.” Every time some particularly exasperating thing happened, I'd announce in my staff meeting that that was going to be another chapter in my book. The other one was entitled “The Graveyard Spiral - The Story of Boeing.”
Meanwhile, the "shop" went to hell in a hand basket. Symptomatic of today's America, we worried about everything but what we should be worrying about. And it showed!
In the 1992-1995 time period, while producing 42 airplanes a month, all models, we, in Materiel, with my shop in the front firing line out in the Field with the suppliers, were running about 5-7 shortages (SOS's) to the Production Line - Parts the factory needed to complete an airplane. Of those 5-7, most were BFE type items - Buyer Furnished Equipment – minor items like coffee makers or class divider curtains. The new 777 was coming together. Our first digital airplane. Parts were coming from everywhere in the world. Billions of them. It was a tremendous performance.
After the new 'whiz kids' took over, the shortages starting growing. No one was looking after the shop. The 'Beautiful People' were spending all their time on the 'non-business' items. We had wine and cheese off-site meetings where we contemplated our future. I left in '95. Within a year or two, the shortages had grown to over 1000. Boeing was forced to shut-down both Renton and Everett production lines for weeks. They talked about a "Supplier Meltdown." Bullshit, it was a Boeing management meltdown. The Company posted its first loss in 50 years – and it was a multi-billion dollar whopper! Eventually, Ron Woodard, President of Commercial Airplanes was fired. Later, Phil Condit, the man at the top, followed him out the door, followed by his replacement, Harry Stonecipher. A company that had had only a handful of CEO's in its 75 year history, had 3 or 4 in just a couple of years, while the company made headlines - not the good kind - and lost defense contracts, got banned from bidding opportunities, and had to pay hundreds of millions in fines. Some, well some even went to jail. But they all preached ethics to the workforce, and Political Correctness reigned supreme. Eventually, most all the crew of Beauty Contest lovers got the gate -- but not before one of America's greatest companies almost went down the tubes with them. No one was tending to the knitting. Airplanes may Fly, but Bullshit goes.... well, it goes, Splat.
The 'new-style' managers read poetry, spouted management mumbo-jumbo, and had no idea what they were doing. They didn't know what Boeing did for a living. They sure as hell didn't know what their subordinates or their subordinate's organizations did for a living. If you showed some of them an airplane, they may have known "the "Pointy End" goes forward." Their problem was, they didn't know which was the "Pointy End." As Bill Conway said in one of his talks, "This notion that a good manager can run any business is nonsense. If you want to run a baking company, you'd better know a hell of a lot about baking!"
This was a depressing change from Jim Blue.
Here's how Jim Blue communication worked.
This happened to me many times. About Noon, Jim came into my office. "Whaddya doing this afternoon", he'd say. I pulled my Dance Card out of my breast pocket - it had all my meetings for the day on an Index card. I was like a robot that went from one meeting to another - no time to eat, not even any time to pee. "Geez, I've got all these meetings." "Lemme see that", he'd say, and then walking out to my secretary, he'd say "Cancel all these meetings." Then, he'd walk back into my office and toss a Mariners ticket on my desk. "See you in the Kingdome in an hour" he'd say, turn, and walk away. It was a Businessman's Matinée baseball game.
So, I'd meet him there - I was forced to skip all those URGENT meetings! The ones I couldn't possibly miss! A ball game is kinda slow, and not too many fans were ever there. We'd eat our hot dogs and peanuts, and watch the game. And second guess the players and the coach. AND, -- most of all -- , we'd talk shop for 3 hours. One on one. Mano o' Mano. Talk about rug time with the boss?! When the game was over, we'd both had a good time, and Jim had found out everything there was to know about what was going on. And me, I'd gotten all my heartburns off my chest. Talk about Painless Dentistry?
Hey, this man knew how to do it!!! The rest - well, they're still taking management courses, -- you know, the ones on how to communicate with your subordinates!
Jeez, I'm getting old....................
In August 1985, JAL lost a 747 in Japan with 520 fatalities. This was a horrendous event for both JAL and Boeing. Investigation revealed the aft pressure bulkhead had suffered a catastrophic structural failure, and worse yet, it failed because of an improper damage repair made by Boeing 7 years earlier. Because of this event, two things happened. Great attention was paid to the condition of in-service aft pressure bulkheads, especially those that had been repaired. And the second thing that happened was that JAL sent a significant number of engineers and inspectors to Boeing's Everett plant to monitor Boeing's production of their airplanes. I think there were over 35 people, and they went over everything with a microscope. They even went to our sub-contractor, Vought in Dallas, to observe the manufacture of new aft pressure bulkheads. In general, they began finding conditions that had been commonly accepted before, that they now considered unacceptable. The pot finally boiled over in November 1985, when they rejected the aft pressure bulkheads on two completed airplanes – line numbers 635 and 636, and demanded they be replaced with new units. This would be a huge undertaking for Boeing – removing and disassembling the entire 48, or tail section – something we had never done before.
About this time, Jim Blue had just about wrapped up selling the 58 used jetliners and was itching for a new assignment. Dean Thornton was getting a lot of heat, heat from JAL, and heat from the factory. Late one November afternoon, Dean came down, went into Jim's office, and closed the door. It was a long meeting. My office was right across the hall, and I hung around for an hour or more, but finally went home, wondering just what this long meeting was all about.
Early that evening, I got one of those numerous, career-changing phone calls from Jim. “You're the new Director of Quality Assurance for BCAG”, he said, “and I'm the new Vice-President! Meet me tomorrow morning at 6 AM on the 747 line.” And so began a new adventure. And not one I wanted. The next morning we met and began climbing all over airplanes and looking at aft pressure bulkheads while he filled me in. Now anyone who knows me know I like airplanes, I mean hands-on with airplanes -- but I was happy finally making it into the sales and marketing organization. I'd had 20 years of Skydrol dripping in my eyes. Been there. Done that. Now here I was back in the factory with shavings stuck to my shoes. This was yet one more of life's lessons – move up in an organization, be it corporate or military, and your fate is no longer in your hands. Jim left the entire Used Airplane sales organization behind – except me --- Jim, me and Mary Lou, his secretary, were the new Quality group. All three of us.
Of course, Thornton's immediate objective was to lower the quality noise level coming from the airlines and the factory. But, what was hatched that day continues to this day, and represents a change in paradigm for Boeing. It's very unclear that anybody but Jim Blue had the horsepower to actually move this giant iceberg called Boeing. But Jim was a super-volcano.
One of our early goals was to move the program Quality Directors out from under the Manufacturing management and hard-lined directly to their Division Vice-President / General Managers. Eventually, our goal was to hard line them to the Vice President of Quality who reported directly to the President.
The next few weeks, I spent a lot of time in the factory, much to the consternation of the existing manufacturing and quality organizations, and even made a series of trips down to Vought in Dallas. Meanwhile, Jim started fleshing out the organization. He brought over Gray Clark, 757 Quality Director, and Dick Schwartz from Customer Support.
Eventually, me and Dick decided that “Little q” was not what our mission should be, but “Big Q.” “Little q” refers to classic quality control, -- parts inspection, checking for defects, compliance with drawing requirements, etc. Big Q referred to the Japanese concept of Total Quality Management (TQM), meaning everyone had a role in the final product quality.
A quick example – In order to consummate a sale, a salesman pressures the factory into squeezing an extra short flow airplane into the schedule – say a 10 month airplane instead of the usual 18 months. The airplane comes out with rushed engineering, an over-loaded factory and vendors, and is delivered with a raft of problems. The airline is unhappy and complains to the salesman, who bitches at the factory, who calls the quality manager on the carpet. In reality, the salesman initiated a daisy chain of events that compromised the quality of the end product. TQM highlites the role that everyone in every organization has in assuring final product quality. It applies to organizations other than manufacturing, and to jobs other than making parts. And it provides measuring and solution tools to identify and fix the problems.
We went down to the Aerospace (military) group in Kent, who seemed to be working on this BIG Q and met a man named John Black. We took some courses – Bill Conway, Edwards Deming, etc – did a lot of reading, and convinced ourselves this was the road. Now, we had to convince Blue, who was not an easy sell. He'd worked in the factory and he knew what inspectors did for a living. Going down this new road would be quite a leap of faith.
Finally, the 1985 Christmas break came and Jim went down to Mexico for a few weeks to a condo he had there. We stocked a shopping bag full of books on Quality and Lean Manufacturing for him to read while he was there.
In January 1986, he came back. He had seen the light. He was converted. He strode across the patio and burst into Dean's office, as was his style, and began telling him what we were really going to do. I often wonder what Dean thought of all this.
Now the task was to educate and convert everyone else. It would have been easier to build the SST. We hired John Black away from Aerospace – an action that Jim later threatened to fire all of us over, maybe a hundred times. John was a messianic prophet type who danced to his own drummer; mere mortals would occasionally have a hard time seeing his visions. We conducted seminars for all top management; brought in guru's and other business leaders – like Vaughn Bealls of Harley Davidson, and Don Peterson from Ford; and began a lot of training. Eventually, we got top managers over to Japan to study the Toyota system. For the most part, we stopped our group's activities related to “Little q.”
What started out that day in January of 1986 is still ongoing. For Boeing, that event was the start of a sea change. In fact, you could say, it's just recently that it has really been getting going. That's how long it takes – over 20 years, to get some of the mindsets changed, to get some of the older hard heads out of the organization. As Deming was fond of saying about American managers - “They don't even know what questions to ask.”
From that moment on, for the rest of my career, I worked on changing Boeing's direction. First internally, then within the whole supplier base. It was a terribly frustrating job. Phil Condit came and sat in my office one afternoon while we were struggling with our mission. “Let me give you some career advice,” he said, “Never be an Advocate.” I've thought about that often in the years since. Nobody, it seems, likes an evangelist or prophet within. Phil may have been right, but my DNA has Proponent genes, and, as the punchline in one of Blue's jokes goes - “You are what you are.”
Many of Boeing's initiatives these days – TQM, SPC, Lean Manufacturing, reduced brick and mortar square footage, reduced flow times, eliminating storerooms, JIT, moving production lines, smaller supplier base, etc, all come from our early efforts. Many people were involved in this metamorphosis, and many were more knowledgeable than Jim. Awareness of these concepts existed inside and outside Boeing for years, and I can only claim full credit, along with Dick Schwartz, for planting the seed with Jim in December 1985.
But make no mistake about it. Jim Blue made it happen. And the flame was lit that January day in 1986, when he came back from Mexico with a shopping bag full of marked up books. I doubt Dean Thornton ever fully realized what he unleashed the evening he sat down in Jim's office. Nor do I think Jim fully realized how important he was, in moving the humongous iceberg that is The Boeing Company. Mark this down – it changed forever the thinking and direction of the Company. It was a watershed event.
the De Havilland Story
The time came when some bright whiz-kid decided Boeing need to be involved with the bottom end of the airliner market, things like turbo-prop commuter planes. They thought this would enable a total sales package, as airlines in those days, had large commuter subsidiaries. Sell 'em big 'uns and little 'uns was the idea. They looked around and found this Canadian operation – de Havilland, building commuter turboprops. What a BAD idea! Having lived and worked in Canada, I lobbied against it – but being a little leaguer, amongst “giants”, my lobbying fell on deaf ears. Boeing (and Americans), don't understand Canadian labor, media, and political forces. They didn't then. They still don't.
For starters, they were interested in the wrong company. Not de Havilland in Toronto, I told them, but Canadair in Montreal. Better products, better management, better everything. And, although we swore we would never do it, we couldn't help ourselves. We “Boeing-ized” them. We converted a low WRAP rate into a humongous one. We wound up using more manhours to assemble a Dash 8 than a 747.
Whatever, -- if buying de Havilland was dumb, selling it a few years later was a true landmark of stupidity. We overpaid to buy it, and then had to pay someone (megabucks) to take it off our hands. Getting horribly bad press all the while - for first “stealing” this great Canadian asset, and then for “dumping” it. We would have been better off just padlocking the gate. But, then, what do I know – the Boeing vp's involved all lost the Company BILLIONS, and got compensated with bonuses of millions. Onward and upward, I say.
It was late in 1986. Jim had pushed the Company onto the Total Quality/Lean Manufacturing path. As always, Blue was getting itchy feet. Dean Thornton came to Blue and asked if he would become head man at the newly purchased de Havilland. A title something like CEO of de Havilland. Or President of Boeing of Canada. Titles like that were irresistible to high executives, like honey to a bear. Blue said “Sure!” He called me at home and told me (as so many times before) to pack my bags and head for Toronto. “For how long?” I asked?”. “Just a few years”, he said. “Doing what?” I asked. “You're gonna be the new Plant Manager!”
Well, I had served my time in hell. I had lived in Canada for 4-5 years, and had a huge extended family there from my wife's side. I had seen the unions, the politics and figured I had shoveled my car out of the snow for the last time. I had followed Jim from job to job to job. But I knew I wasn't going back up there. Nope! There was not enough money. And titles didn't mean much to me. I didn't say anything; I just mulled it over laying in bed that night.
But, as it turned out, I was saved.
Enter Jeanne Ann. I wasn't there, but basically, when Blue excitedly told her the “good news”, she said something like “You're going up there alone; I'm going to see a divorce lawyer.”
Poor Jim had to retreat back to Dean and tell him the bad (good from my perspective) news. Thornton had to look around for a new guy, and found Ron Woodard running Materiel (Boeing's purchasing group.) Ron was only a short time in the position, having come from Sales, and replacing long time Materiel head man, Bruce Gissing. Ron said “Sure.” He liked big titles too. So Woodard became head of Boeing of Canada, got the fancy title, and Jim took his spot running Materiel. These are the things that aren't in the Boeing News, and they sure don't teach you in Sloan School!
The story I heard, was that Ron got an unwritten assurance, that when he returned from deHavilland, he would have the inside track towards replacing Dean as President of BCA. And that's what ultimately happened. I often wonder what the world would look like if Blue had taken the Canada job, and become President of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Now that would have been really interesting! Anyhow,.....
Jim called me again the next nite. I was getting a lot of these calls. I'm sure my home number was on his speed dial. He told me I was the new Director of Logistic Support in Materiel Division. In three days, I had had three jobs and three job titles: BCAG Director of Quality Assurance; de Havilland Plant Manager; and now Director of Logistic Support in the Materiel Division. Jeeez! Can you see why working for Jim was such an exciting proposition? And I did it for 25 years!!!
Again, he left everybody, this time in the Quality organization, behind. It was him, me, and Mary Lou again, like the Three Musketeers, setting off on another new adventure. The Good Ship Lolly-Pop. I'd heard what you needed to get ahead was a good set of coat-tails, but I was getting rope burns!
Jim went down to his Mexico condo for a few weeks in December 1986, and left me instructions: Go to all the Materiel staff meetings, get all the org charts, interview all the Directors and Senior Managers, and be prepared to give him a complete briefing when he got back.
So, I did all those things. The Materiel Directors viewed me with great suspicion. To put it mildly. Jim was known as a 'Mover and a Shaker', and I was considered to be his Hatchet Man. Jim always went somewhere to “clean up a mess.” They figured I was there to spy on their shop in preparation for firing everybody. Actually, I was there because Jim was there, and Jim was there because Jeanne Ann refused to go to Toronto. It was that simple.
Me? I hate to confess this, but I didn't even know Materiel existed. I'd worked all over the Company, from liaison engineering to flight test, field service, customer engineering, product development, sales, marketing, and quality assurance. I'd worked with our many vendors, but guess I had no idea how they got picked or how their hardware was purchased. They were “just there!” Well, I had some more learning to do, leading to my final assignment at Boeing. By the time I hung up my spikes, I'd managed to work in just about every discipline inside Boeing – except H.R. And Finance. Never was a bean counter.
Materiel had been formed a few years earlier by Bruce Gissing who consolidated the purchasing organizations in the various divisions. It was a smart move, since there was little sense having different groups dealing with the same suppliers, and often working in opposition. Often, the vendors would play one group against another, and Boeing was failing to capitalize on the added leverage of bigger dollar buys.
By the time Blue showed up, the Division was functioning pretty well.
Don't Rock the Boat
One of my favorite song lines is from Kenny Rogers “The Gambler.”
“You gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em”
Jim was very capable of fomenting Revolution, and mass executions, but in Materiel, he practiced Evolution. Like me, I don't think he had a great knowledge of the purchasing function either, and he sensed the machine was running pretty well. Some of the management would definitely not have been his first choice, but he was smart enough to manage the team he was given. Time and attrition would allow him to mold the team into something more to his liking. But he knew when to leave well enough alone
He traveled endlessly visiting suppliers and acted interested during the many plant tours. He became intimate with the management of hundreds of Boeing suppliers. And he supported, to the hilt, my attempt to bring The Quality Revolution to the 3600 companies that constituted our supplier base.
Museum of Flight
Jim was very active with the Museum of Flight and, in addition to serving on their Board of Directors, gave them a lot of money over the years. He was also instrumental in obtaining two significant airplanes – a MIG 21, and a Concorde.
Start your own Air Force – Buy your own MIG 21
While visiting parts supplier Aero Vodochody in the Czech Republic one day, Blue noticed a field full of MIG 21 airplanes. Many had tarps on and many looked new. When he asked what they were doing in the field, his hosts explained they had been built under license for the Russians. When the Soviet Union fell, so did the contract. They were destined to be scrapped. Blue was shocked and asked what they wanted for one. Not sure themselves, they huddled and announced the price would be $15,000. “Fine,” he said, “I'll take one,” and wrote out a check.
Jim in Eastern Europe
He came back home and told the Museum he had bought an airplane for them. It would match up nicely with the F-4 Phantom, the two having been adversaries during the Viet Nam war. After a few days, we got a fax from the supplier. They had made a bad error in quoting the price. The real price would be $10,000.
Eventually, the airplane arrived at Boeing Field, all freshly painted, and with a new engine. It came in a big packing crate along with two mechanics. Jim asked me to help them out. They didn't speak much English, so mostly just I watched and took them to lunch and the hotel. They put the whole thing together in 2-3 days with just a few basic hand tools – I have way more in my garage. It's construction and ruggedness were very impressive. Hey! This is a Mach 2 plus airplane! The MIG was put in place next to the Phantom in the Museum. Jim dedicated it to his brother Don, who was a Marine Corps pilot during WW II and Korea.
Czech MIG-21 in Museum of Flight
This story began in November 1984. The Museum struck a deal with British Airways to fly a Concorde into Boeing Field. Seats were sold to Museum contributors for the flights to and from Seattle, as well as supersonic trips over the Pacific Ocean dubbed "Flights to Nowhere." At the time I was Special Projects Manager for the Renton Division, working for Boeing Vice-President Dick Taylor. The Museum's glass gallery did not yet exist.
this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I played hooky from work,
and went to Boeing Field to watch the Concorde land. So
impressed was I, that I came and watched all the subsequent
take-off's and landings (the take-off's are far more impressive than
the landings!) For an airplane lover, this was something beyond
exciting. Like a debutante standing looking at a Tiffany's
window display, I said to myself "I've GOT to get one of those."
Somewhat fortunately, I was also, at the time, Chairman of the
Aircraft Acquisition Committee of the Museum of Flight. It was
pretty much a 'committee of one', so I was free to go out and collect
what I wanted - sort of like a kid in a candy store! (In later
years, I got to figure out where we could stash all this booty, to
say nothing of maintaining them.)
I drafted a letter asking British Airways for an airplane (on retirement, of course,) and went public with my crazy idea on December 5, 1984. Of course Boeing's high-rollers got involved, as did the marketing and sales departments, who fretted over BA's reaction. Three questions arose: What would the letter say; who would sign it; and to whom would it go. My draft was viewed as way too exuberant, and of course, I didn't have the "horsepower" to sign it and get a favorable response. A more subdued alternate letter was drafted.
Eventually, when the whole idea seemed to be bogging down in Boeing's bureaucracy, I took the whole mess, various drafts, and questions personally to T. Wilson, Boeing's Chairman -- a very down to earth and approachable guy. He liked the idea, agreed to sign the letter, and picked my version of the letter. "Puget Sound Flow Time" being what it is, the letter finally went out on February 5, 1985. On February 26th, we received a reply from Lord King, BA's Chairman. In it, he stated "I give you my word that your request will be recorded and not forgotten."
Fast forward through the years, Boeing, British Airways, and Museum management came and went. Each new regime seemed surprised when I told them "we had a Concorde coming." They asked for something in writing, and I sent copies - I didn't want the originals to disappear as had the copies I kept sending. T. Wilson retired and died. Lord King retired.
Enter Jim Blue, a good friend of Lord King. Jim was a man at ease with Presidents and Potentates. He and Lord King developed a close rapport. They liked bird-hunting and fine shotguns. Probably they also liked fine Scotch and good Cuban cigars. Jim was my vehicle for keeping the pump primed on this very important acquisition.
Finally, starting in 2002, rumors began to swirl that the Concorde fleet would be retired. More than 70 institutions came forward asking for an airplane. A 'short list' was circulated in the aviation press. Some of these lists didn't mention Seattle. As the lists got shorter and shorter, I got 'nervouser and nervouser'. My spies inside BA indicated we had been dropped.
I got hold of Jim Blue who called Lord King, very much alive, despite misinformed information at the Museum to the contrary. Now, the time was getting very short. Museum management was unhappy with me for trodding through their tulip patch, at perhaps a critical time...but, as they say, all's well that ends well. Better for me to step in and end the swimming lesson before anybody gets drowned. The list came out. It had only 2 U.S. recipients - New York (logical as it was the destination for most BA Concorde flights), and Seattle. Discussions between Jim Blue, Lord King, and myself on November 27, 2003 indicated clearly just how close a near-miss had occurred. Lord King, a long-time fan of Boeing and Seattle, was very pleased that the airplane had come here.
I'd like to take full credit for bringing the Concorde to Seattle. I hatched the idea and shepherded it through thick and thin for 19 years, while the key players came and went. But, in the end, Jim Blue (and Lord King) made it happen, not me.
Jim had incredible loyalty to Boeing. His father had a long Boeing career, as did some of his kids and siblings. To Jim, Boeing was a family affair. And a career affair. Service Awards, given every five years for Company service meant a lot to him. When I got my 30 year watch, my new boss never got involved. H.R. gave it to me. Jim Blue, meanwhile, even though retired for several years, DID get involved. He presented it to me – in the Cabbage Patch restaurant in Snohomish. I'm pretty sure he paid!
Jim may have been retired, but he still cared
Boeing experience, time in grade, were real values. He was a very big fan of people with Field experience – that's where, he figured, the rubber met the road. Field people were knowledgeable, resourceful, able to operate independently, and to make important decisions. Unlike many major companies, Boeing never availed themselves of this valuable resource.
Promoting from within, and having a career path for employees to aspire to, was a cornerstone of this value system. And that's how Boeing operated. For 70 years, it did. People like Jim could actually move from pushing a handcart unloading boxcars at night to the highest executive ranks. Mustang is the term used inside Boeing. Boeing employees were “lifers”, unlike our Southern California counterparts who had commonly worked for most of the aircraft companies down there, following the ebb and flow of business levels and military contracts. And with little consequent loyalty to their employer.
Some people felt that that scheme was creating a company too inbred. Phil Condit was a major proponent of that viewpoint, and looked to bring in “new blood.” Under his reign, the unthinkable began to happen. People from outside Boeing were actually recruited, and what's worse, they were given top jobs. Some of these individuals were not even First Round Draft Choices, but people that had had a somewhat checkered career with an assortment of previous employers. Some had left their last jobs, let us say, “involuntarily.” In fact, some, actually, most, of them, wound up having relatively short tenures within Boeing, before moving on to yet greener, and more lucrative pastures. Or getting canned.
Gradually, these outsiders began populating all the top spots, moving into Sales, Customer Support, Materiel, the Operating Divisions (like Renton), Finance, and Human Resources. Even worse, after the McDonnell Douglas merger, a hoard of “Douglas types” began taking key posts. To many in Boeing, it felt like the first string Major Leaguers were being replaced by the members of the Triple AAA farm club. Or maybe it was Single A. Boeing really did begin to look like a major league ball club, with Free Agents who came and went from team to team.
One thing was for sure, for the 150,000 Boeing employees, a clear message had been sent:
There was no longer a career path to the top within Boeing.
Some people saw the hand-writing and acted upon it. High octane performers like Jim Johnson and Grace Robertson left the Company. I was pretty upset about the situation, and wrote a letter to Ron Woodard – I still have it. In the letter, I ask the question “If all the top performers leave, whose gonna be left to run the place – the duds?”
Loyalty, as mentioned many times in this recollection, was a bedrock value for Jim Blue. Loyalty to him by his subordinates. Loyalty by him for his subordinates. And loyalty to Boeing. Now that didn't mean you couldn't criticize the Company, or the management. He did all the time. That is what kept the Company dynamic and very far from being in-bred.
I've spoken of promotion Beauty Contests and outside hiring New Blood. While Phil was in charge, another concept emerged. It was Team Player. In politics, Campaign Contribution is a euphemism for Bribery. At Boeing, Team Player became a euphemism for Yes Man. Dissent was not career enhancing in the new system, and people who disagreed were labeled as non-Team Players. The didn't “Work and Play Well with Others.” Their careers and raises became truncated. Or ended. Getting fired at Boeing used to mean getting shoved out into a Siberian power plant type of job; now it really meant Getting Fired! Boeing moved to a NASA-like culture. It was the O-ring debate at Thiokol before the Challenger disaster.
Jim Blue wanted his 45 year pin. It meant a lot to him. His normal retirement would have been around his 65th birthday – April 27, 1994. So, he pre-announced his retirement date of November 1994. That would have been 6 months after the normal deadline for executives. He made that announcement a few years years in advance to give the Company a chance to find a replacement, and to put them on notice that he wanted to hit that 45 year mark.. Nothing happened. From time to time, he would bug them about it, but the urgency was missing. His vision was for someone to come and share the job for a while – Double-Boxing is the Boeing lingo. Perhaps one of the Procurement Directors. I'm sure he had his list – he just always thought in those terms.
And then, the annual 90-series, ( E-series, these days) meetings were held In March 1994 at the Convention Center, downtown Seattle. This annual meeting brought all Boeing executives together to get a progress report and to hear words of wisdom from the top dogs. Frank Shrontz, Phil Condit, and the other heavy breathers were on the dais. Larry Clarkson was the M.C. Larry, coincidentally, had come to Boeing from Pratt & Whitney. My understanding was he hadn't left Pratt voluntarily.
I believe it was on Wednesday, March 9th, when there was a big Q&A session. Jim was never shy. He stepped to the microphone and asked something like this:
“Can you tell me why, in a company with 150,000 talented employees, we can't find people to promote from within, and we have to keep bringing in these outsiders?”
There was a hush in the room. Larry Clarkson, himself an outsider, broke the tension, saying “Present company not included, I presume.” A big laugh followed. The people on the dais didn't look happy. Phil took the question and gave his usual story line about infusing new blood being vital to the health of the organization.
That was Wednesday. Jim Blue was replaced within days, - if memory serves - maybe before the week was out. They had suddenly found a replacement. I doubt seriously whether he was on any Succession Table! Jim moved quickly to a temporary office down the hall. After minimal overlap, Jim moved to Everett, nominally over-seeing a 747 engine strut mod program for the final months of his long career. In November, he received his 45 year pin and retired officially from Boeing.
The new guy was a Boeing employee, not an outsider, but with no experience in purchasing. The operational results of his tenure are mentioned elsewhere in this series of stories. Clearly, if the head shed had spent more time working this problem, they would have made a better choice. (This man left after the supplier debacle, and his replacement, incidentally, was an outsider, brought in from the heavy equipment industry. He too only lasted a couple of years, and then he got fired himself. Seems Phil's new system wasn't working out too well...)
Management had sent another message. The more astute in the workforce – maybe including the executive payroll - had received it. Like the mafia, they had made an example.
Being a Team Player meant keeping your head down, and your mouth shut................
Phil believed in bringing in outsiders. As Boeing President, the Company naturally moved in the direction of his vision. To question the Party Line, especially in public, meant only one thing – you were NOT a Team Player. And, I might add, this wasn't exactly a “public” forum – it was a select group of the Company's top executives.
Although Phil is gone, his legacy continues. Discussions with active Boeing employees indicate the Beauty Contests, Team Player inhibiting culture, and the rest, are still active components of the Boeing system today. Struggles with the 787 supplier base, now referred to in Newspeak as Global Partners, indicate skills in supply chain management, once a core competency, have atrophied and have yet to be regained.
Jim, with wife Jeanne Ann (left) and Sister-in-law Dorothy (Don's wife) at his retirement - Oct 25, 1994.
The above story is illustrative of one of Jim's fundamental beliefs. As mentioned several times before, Jim often noted that everyone has "chinks in their armor."
Jim Blue was a Boeing executive for a long time - a lot longer than some of his contemporaries. As such, he enjoyed perks and compensation greater than that granted to newer executives. The 90 series (executive) population was a lot smaller and more personal in those days, with things like an annual party at President Bill Allen's house.
One day, Jim told me the story about his being promoted to 90 series. Mal Stamper called him into his office and gave him the good news, while counseling him, that now that he was in the "inner sanctum," he was going to find out that his leaders had clay feet. It's normal for people to feel their leaders, whether in business or politics, are smart and wise, when in truth they are often no smarter than your next-door neighbor. As Jim often pointed out, sometimes they aren't near as smart as your next-door neighbor.
This bit of wisdom has stuck with me for many years, as I have pondered corporate leadership, as well as the politics of the world.
The Clock of Life
Jim Blue was a man who 'knew' his employees, and who cared about them. He knew what they were doing. This became all the clearer after he was gone, as his replacement knew little about the work, the workforce, or what was happening. In my case, Jim knew my tendency to overwork, and it troubled him -- a lot. It concerned him personally. On more than one occasion, he made a painful (for me, at the time) reorganization, in order, I realized later, to offload some of my work.
His true concern was never demonstrated more than a little incident that happened while we were working in Lynnwood. It was about 6:30 in the evening and most everyone had long gone home. Jim himself was working late. He took the elevator from the 7th floor down to the parking garage, and while putting his briefcase in the trunk of his car, looked around the empty garage. All the Directors and Senior Managers were long gone. There was only one car in the place - mine. Of course, he knew my car on sight - his replacement didn't seem to even know if I drove to work.
Seeing me still there so late bugged him. So, he went back to the elevator and took it up to the third floor where my office was (another thing his replacement didn't know.) He walked across the whole floor to my office - the door was open, my coat was hung behind the door. I was not there - out somewhere in the building in a meeting. With the worker bees, who didn't get to park in the Executive garage. He took out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it - then left it on my office chair, sure to be found. Then he went home.
After a while, I came back and found the paper with its message on my chair. In his unmistakable scrawl was just one line - it said:
"The Clock of Life is wound but once."
Now this one line epitomized everything I've tried to explain about Jim Blue. It was the first line in an obscure poem, which itself was a key part in an even more obscure story. Jim knew both the poem, ... and the story. More than that, he was able to extract it from his incredible memory bank as the ideal one that fit the situation, and he applied it perfectly, like Cinderella getting fitted with the glass slipper. He pulled out just the right gold nugget, at just the right moment. And, of course, it demonstrated so clearly that Jim Blue was a man who truly cared. That's why, ..... well, that's why......... I love that man.......
Well, that's my little bit of sharing. I could write a book. Maybe I've written one, or at least a part of one. And I've only dipped a toe into my storehouse of stories. But now you know a little more about my friend, Jim Blue. And maybe you understand why I liked him the way I did. We WERE the Odd Couple. I miss him ..... A LOT !!! Jim packed a lot of action into his life. When the Good Lord wound his clock, he gave it a few extra turns, that's for sure.
Jim Blue – Rest in Peace, Old Friend.
(For the complete story of that one line quote, see below. So very typical of Jim to be intimate with wonderful stories like this)
"The Clock of Life is wound but once."
The rest of this great story:................
There was a man nick-named "Artful Eddie" who started out as a small-time lawyer in St. Louis. In 1909, he entered into a partnership with an inventor who created a mechanical rabbit for use at dog tracks. As dog racing was still in its early years, this invention caught on quickly. In 1927 the inventor died, and Artful Eddie used his cunning legal skills to cheat the inventor's wife out of the patent rights. He gained total control over the mechanical rabbit.
Pockets bursting with money, he dumped his wife, and took his three kids, including his son, Butch, to Chicago. Like everyone who met the fast talking young lawyer, Al Capone took an immediate liking to Eddie and set him up at a Chicago dog track.
Dog racing was illegal in Illinois, but by tying up the courts with legal challenges for years, Eddie kept the park open. He didn't stop there, though. He used his talents to expand the Capone empire into other dog tracks around the country, and into tax-dodging real estate deals, sham corporations, and political bribes.
While failing as an upstanding citizen, Artful Eddie seemed to be a decent father. As Butch grew, Eddie realized that the life of crime he was living would severely limit his son's chance for something better. So, he made a fateful decision - he would turn Al Capone over to the law.
At the trial, a cop pulled Eddie aside and asked him what compelled him to turn on Capone. Eddie simply said, "I wanted to give my son a chance."
Capone may have been locked away for good, but the mob did not forget.
A couple of years later, on Wednesday, November 8, 1939, as Artful Eddie pulled up to the corner of Ogden and Rockwell in Chicago, two shotgun blasts ended his life. Inside his coat pocket was found a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from the newspaper, which read:
The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power,
To tell just when the hands will stop,
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in time.
For the clock may soon be still.
Because of his father's sacrifice and the clearing of his family's name, Eddie's son Butch was able to gain entrance to the US Naval Academy. He graduated with honors and became a naval pilot.
When war was declared with Japan, Butch found himself flying a single-engine Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter over the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific. One day on mission, Butch and his wingman in another Wildcat spotted nine Japanese twin-engine bombers zeroing in on the aircraft carrier Lexington. They formed up to attack, but the second Wildcat's weapons jammed - leaving only Butch between the airborne attackers and the 2,100 men of the USS Lexington.
Butch attacked the greater enemy force head-on, alone, flying straight into their formation, with guns blazing. One by one, he picked off the enemy bombers, downing five of the original nine attackers. Three more were shot down by Lexington pilots who were able to take off because of Butch's heroic engagement. The last Japanese bomber, badly damaged in the shootout with Butch, crashed at sea miles away.
Butch's heroism was quickly recognized. He became the first naval aviator of World War II to be personally awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt, who called his performance "one of the most daring, if not THE most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation."
Several years later, Butch's fighter was shot down and he was lost at sea.
There is hardly a day or week that goes by, that the people of Chicago, and probably the nation, don't say, hear or visit his namesake. Because, after the war, the citizens of Chicago named their new airport after their fallen son, ............Butch O'Hare.
I DO love that story.
The poem cited above was written by Robert H. Smith. Titled "The Clock of Life," the poem was written and copyrighted in 1932 and again, in 1982. Here is the complete version of this poem:
The Clock of Life
by Robert H. Smith, copyright 1932, 1982
The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.
To lose one's wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one's health is more,
To lose one's soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.
The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in "Tomorrow,"
For the Clock may then be still.
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Copyright 2007 by Robert Bogash. All rights reserved.