I first ran into Jim Blue on Minuteman, shortly after he came up from Wichita. But I didn’t really see much of him there.
And I knew of his exploits in Customer Support, and his success in getting rid of used airplanes, but really didn’t know the guy.
So, fast forward to late 1986. Woodard is off to deHavilland and Blue is announced as his replacement. He wandered into Ponti’s staff meeting one day, met the guys, announced that Bogash was coming over with him, and then took off for his Mexican condo.
I didn’t see any more of him till I got summoned to his office, about a week after he got back. " So I hear you have Mariners season tickets”, he said, and I allowed that he was correct. This incidentally was when the Mariners were not doing well at all. His next
question was "Who gave them to you?” When I said that I had bought them myself, he seemed a bit taken aback, and mumbled something about seeing how the team was doing, that showed extremely poor judgment. And we got along fine from then on.
I certainly don't pretend to know Jim nearly as well as Bogash, White, or some of the others, but I did report to him direct for a couple of years, and traveled with him a lot. Incidentally, I ended up reporting to him, as a kind of high priced errand boy, as a
result of one of those off site bull sessions which Bob mentioned, I think at McLendon’s hardware, where I told him I wasn’t interested in working where he had planned to assign me.
Jim certainly had basic integrity, and was loyal to his employees. But he was also loyal to his bosses. Even those he didn't particularly like.
I heard him say over and over that he didn't usually agree with one particular boss he reported to, and didn't really care for his management style. But he never bad mouthed him, in private or in public, because the guy was Jim's boss, and Jim felt that,
right or wrong, he must support him. Now that was real integrity.
Also, I remember clearly that Jim did not have much use for one particular newcomer from another company. However, when this guy became Jim's big boss, Jim never again said a word against him. In fact, he made it very clear, that right or wrong, we would
all do our best to support him.
I particularly mention this trait of loyalty to the boss, because it was kind of unusual around BCAC at the time.
Another example of Jim's integrity comes to mind. A big Japanese company was hosting a lavish Christmas party every year for BCAC execs. And as part of the festivities was giving out some pretty expensive gifts. I thought that this was inappropriate,
since at the same time, if a buyer even took baseball tickets from a machine shop, these same execs would fire the buyer, and take the machine shop off the bidders list for a hundred years. Anyway, I talked to everyone up to and including Thornton, and
had no luck in getting anything done about it. Then Blue came along and I discussed it with him. I don't know what he did, but that was the end of the lavish gifts. Of course, I never got invited to another of those parties, but that was a small price to pay.
As to the 747 crash mentioned in Bob’s story, there was more than enough blame to go around. My point is that Jim took responsibility, probably more than he needed to, and, as far as I know, refrained from any public finger pointing. Jim in particular, seemed really concerned for the JAL maintenance chief, who was replaced by JAL, and ended up running a Boeing subcontractor shop. Almost every time Jim went to Japan, he would look this guy up, and usually end up having dinner with him.
That was real empathy.
Speaking of empathy, let me tell you another story. Jim and Cerf sent me down to Hughes Aircraft, near LA, to see if we could fix the Hughes cabin management system, which was threatening to sink the 747-400 program. So I spent about six months at Hughes, and with a lot of help from others, including Jim and Cerf, managed to get things pretty much back on track.
But let me get to the point of the tale. Several months into this activity, Jim apparently felt that my performance was getting a little weird. He noted that I was flying back and forth to Seattle quite a bit, and disappearing for a day or so at a time. He finally braced me on this, and I explained to him that I had been diagnosed with Prostate Cancer, which I had told no one, and was going thru tests, doctor visits, etc., to try to come up with the best treatment plan. Jim, needless to say, felt really bad, both because I was sick, and because he had misread me. From then on, till I got well, he couldn't do enough for me, he didn't worry about niceties like sick leave, and gave me an easy gig backstopping Blakeley on 777 while I was recovering from radiation.
Jim really did recognize the contributions of the Old Timers. I remember how he used to point this out to an auditorium full of people, by having them all stand, then telling everybody with less than ten years service to sit down, then 15 years, then 20,
and so on till there was no one standing. Since I was about the senior guy in Material at the time, I was usually the last guy standing, so I never dared skip one of these performances.
As for being a free spirit, I understand that Jim committed the company for Material to lease the Lynnwood site without asking anybody, and presented Frank with an accomplished feat.
Speaking of him looking out for the little guy, I had a fellow who really screwed up big time. At the guy's request, I sent him on temporary duty to Japan. Where he immediately managed to marry an Indonesian girl and ensconce her in the best hotel in Nagoya. The fact that he already had a wife in the US seemed irrelevant to him.
Anyway it was a Hell of a mess, which I had to straighten out. His Indonesian wife, who seemed to be legit by Islamic law, was raising hell with everybody up to and including the US State Department, while running up horrendous bills. Anyway, we sent the guy back to Seattle, but Jim refused to fire or seriously discipline him. His reasoning, he told me, was "I was going to fire the guy, but when I found out he was 60 years old, I kind of admired him."
As for Jim on trips, Bogash is right on. I think that we visited every worthwhile temple and shrine in Japan at least twice. And spent some interesting weekends doing some really unusual stuff.
Jim's reading on trips was legendary. For example, when I took a VP on a trip, it was my habit to prepare a voluminous briefing book, sometimes a half inch thick. Of course, no one ever read them, except Jim. He must have gone through my book cover to cover, because at first opportunity he would question me at length about items he found to be of interest. Which was usually most of the book.
As for hi-Jinks on trips, one could fill a book. But here are a couple of examples.
There were no mainline train tracks through Tokyo, so if one were traveling by rail from South to North via Tokyo, (or north to south) One had to detrain at Tokyo Station, then take surface streets (or transit) to Ueno (the north) station, there to entrain again for the North. When us Boeing guys traveled this route the Japanese companies always assigned
us handlers, usually junior executives who often knew less about travel in Japan than I did, but made up for their lack of knowledge with an excess of enthusiasm. Our handlers would have a limo or limos standing by for this surface run to the north station, but we would give them the slip in Tokyo Station, then grab the elevated, which was three times as fast as a limo, make our way to Ueno, hide out till thirty seconds before train time, then jump aboard. Our handlers meanwhile were running around Tokyo station, about to commit Hari Kari because they had lost their charges, and we would have a peaceful ride to our destination in the north. No matter how many times we pulled this, they never did catch on. They always thought they had lost us.
Another time in Rome, when we were staying in a real posh hotel, a mid level guy from Finance was unwise enough to order a drink, and start an open tab. You can guess what happened. Blue and the guys climbed on this horse, and rode it for all it was worth. In a couple of hours they ran up a several hundred dollar tab, then bailed, leaving the guy stuck. This of course, was when Finance reported to Will Loeken, who wouldn’t approve an expense account for one drink, let alone this bill. Jim, of course, asked me to take care of it on the QT, which I did, but we did let the guy stew for quite awhile.
A final anecdote to wind up this tale. It seems that Blue, Wally Alder from Finance, another senior guy, and I, were in Nagoya, ensconced in the Nagoya Castle, a very nice hotel. Anyway, one morning, about one AM, after some forgettable function, we are hanging in the lobby when Blue decided that he needed a hamburger. I explained to him that there was an all night MacDonalds right down the street, but no, Blue had to have one right in the hotel, and right now. So I found some functionary, who rousted the
cook, and in due time we get four hamburgers and four beers. When the check came I glanced at it, and then signed, and after this snack we all headed for bed.
Next morning at breakfast, Blue casually asked how much the hamburgers had cost. I just as casually told him that it was about the equivalent of $400 US. When Blue asked how I was going to handle that, I told him that I had already reported to Travel Accounting that my credit card had been stolen. Wally almost choked on his oatmeal.
Incidentally, in those days, a lot of the Boeing travelers were pretty wild drinkers and womanizers. Jim believed in having fun, but I never saw him get out of line once.
Although Jim retired in late 1994, he retained his interest in the company to the end. He came to my retirement party about a year later, and helped me a lot when I was consulting with the Brits.
All in all, a prince of a man. When they made him, they broke the mold.
John Kuller, Palm Desert California, November 2007