Boeing

T.A. Wilson in 'Olive' His Glory

By Henry (Bud) Hebeler

December 2016

I was able to work for T.A. Wilson as he worked his way up to chairman. Along the way, I was president of three of Boeing's divisions, including the Boeing Aerospace Company.

Wilson's management examples were very unusual. One of the biggest shocks I had was when the two of us were on a two-week trip to describe the Minuteman ICBM program to high-level people in the military, Pentagon and congressional leaders. I gave the more technical aspects, and he gave the management perspective. Halfway through, he said, "Hebeler, I'm getting tired of listening to you." At that point, I thought I was going to be sent home. Instead he said, "I'll give your part and you give mine." What a great experience that was.

But the Wilson event I will never forget occurred when I was responsible for the company's strategic planning. As part of that job, I got about 20 of the senior officers together at a remote location to talk about future actions at least once a year.

At one of these meetings, I opened the session with a presentation on a way to change our compensation system so that it was more motivational. Halfway through, Wilson got mad and walked out of the meeting. This was the first subject on the first day of the three-day session -- and we had lost our primary target, the chairman of the company. Bob Tharrington and I went out and cut an olive branch, which we took to his room. He laughed and came back to the meeting.

He brought it back to Seattle and gave it to Mal Stamper, who painted a 2-foot-by-4-foot canvas and glued the branch to it, after which we presented it to Wilson a second time. It was so unusual that visitors would ask about it.

Tired of that, Wilson hung it in his private bathroom. One day a Time magazine reporter asked if he could use the bathroom. Coming out, the reporter asked Wilson about the olive branch and wrote about the story in the magazine. After that, Wilson called me and said, "Come take back this damn olive branch."

So today it hangs in our house some 30-odd years later. The olives have turned black and wrinkled and the leaves are now all brown, but it's a great remembrance.

Bud Hebeler still displays the olive branch on his wall.

Hebeler photo: Boeing. Olive branch: Courtesy of Bud Hebeler.