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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

February 28, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Boeing’s apology tour

Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner traveled to Japan and reportedly apologized to airlines for continuing problems with the 787 Dreamliner. “I want to first apologize for the fact that we’ve had two incidents with our two very precious customers, ANA and JAL,” Conner said. This is a charming and salutary Japanese custom that we should adopt.

I’m waiting for the Jim McNerney apology tour in America. It might go something like this: “To Boeing’s shareholders, customers, vendors and, especially, employees, I’m deeply sorry that we — and I regret to say this includes my predecessor, St. Alan Mulally — attempted to build the world’s most advanced airliner on the cheap, with an untested and reckless outsourcing program that led to repeated delays, finally grounding, and putting the very future of the company at risk. I deeply regret the weak corporate governance that allowed this, and as a result I will give up the title of chairman to an independent director. I will ask all the directors to resign and appoint only those who pass a medical exam that shows they have a spine. I will give up all of my compensation for the past five years and if the 787 isn’t flying flawlessly this year, I will resign as chief executive…

“To our employees in the Puget Sound, I owe a special apology. I’m sorry we moved the headquarters to Chicago. The hot dogs are superior, but otherwise the company’s top executives are too far removed from the critical commercial airplane business and from Asia. I’m sorry we made a hash of the outsourcing that you now have to fix. I’m sorry we tried to deflect accountability that rightly rests with management decisions by blaming our unionized workers and set up an assembly in South Carolina to punish and intimidate them…” (bows deeply here toward machinists, engineers and technical workers, whispering reverently, “No nerds, no birds” several times.)

“The perfectly legal but morally reprehensible tax dodging? Sorry. We’ll pay our share to the country that has given us everything. I’m also sorry about McDonnell Douglas. I wasn’t around to keep them from using Boeing’s money to take over Boeing, but I could have stopped the McDonnell bean-counter culture from swamping Boeing historic and successful dominance by engineering excellence. Finally, I want to apologize to Jack Welch, whose backside I smooched lo those many years and still didn’t get the top job at GE. Jack, I’m sorry I listened to a word you ever said. Your methods may be good for looting the wealth of corporations and sending it to people who are already rich, but they’re no way to run a great American company.  One more thing: I’m sorry to have been hiding in the bunker, following the advice of lawyers and flacks to ‘keep a low profile.’ As events have shown, this is a counterproductive, even stupid, approach. I’m getting paid to be Boeing’s leader and I intend to lead out front, with transparency and accountability starting right now.”

It will never happen. If it did, it would shake corporate America to its bones. Who would play McNerney in the movie? George Clooney? Or Bryan Cranston?

And Don’t Miss: Obama planned big budget cuts all along | Financial Times (registration required)

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Allen ‘breakthrough’ grants

Where stewardship lands talent

Keep Seattle smart




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