Dagnon retires; 'People' remain his lifelong passion
BY MAUREEN JENKINS
When Jim Dagnon retires from Boeing on May 1, it'll be five years to the day from when this top "People" person first joined the company. That was by design.
Before coming to Boeing as senior vice president of People, Dagnon never planned to take another full-time job. He'd just helped engineer the successful merger of Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroads and built his retirement home outside Ft. Worth, Texas ... Then one Friday, he got an executive recruiter's call.
"He told me he wanted to talk to me about going to work for a 'little airplane company in Seattle,'" Dagnon recalled. "Once I talked to (Boeing Chairman and CEO) Phil Condit about what he was hoping to do, I just couldn't resist the challenge."
"We were going into a period when mergers and acquisitions were going to play a big role in the company's future," said Chairman and CEO Phil Condit," and his experience with the issues raised in mergers and acquisitions was invaluable. I think more than anything else, I needed a trusted partner. Jim saw that opportunity, and I got a good partner."
Since May 1997, Dagnon has helped transform Boeing's corporate culture into one where employees from its various heritage companies felt at home. He's been a strong advocate of leadership development, helping oversee the creation of the Boeing Leadership Center in St. Louis. And Dagnon has overhauled the company's human resources function, creating one where the People organization is not merely a support staff, but an integral partner in the Boeing enterprise.
And it's all been done in his reserved, grace-under-pressure style, one that shows his employees that he values their judgment and trusts them to get the job done.
"He's responsible for helping define the type of leaders that Boeing requires, what competencies those leaders need, identifying gaps and providing development opportunities," said Linda Meeks, director of Planning and Technology for People. "Having the right people with the right skills in the right positions - that is a huge legacy of his."
Over the past five years, Dagnon has certainly faced challenges. There was Boeing's landmark agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor in 1999 following two class-action discrimination lawsuits, which resulted in the company's strengthened commitment to fair and equitable treatment of employees. Then there was the SPEEA (Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace ) strike of 2000 - the only one of 90-plus labor negotiations that ended in a walkout. Dagnon calls that his most frustrating Boeing experience.
Perhaps it's because he knows what it's like to be on both sides. After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, Dagnon began his career at the then-Northern Pacific railroad in 1957 as an "office boy," served as a union representative for six years, and then moved into management.
"I think he's seen it all," said Steve Mercer, Boeing vice president of Learning and Leadership Development. "Deep in his heart, he can empathize with the working person. When he makes a decision, he's not only thinking of the salaried person, but also the hourly worker and the guy out on the production line. So his whole frame of reference is different from someone who's come in as a white-collar worker."
Dagnon shares Condit's and outgoing Vice Chairman Harry Stonecipher's passion about lifelong learning. He was instrumental in creating initiatives such as the "Learning Together" program - one that benefits employees at all levels of the company. To Dagnon, it's all about "engagement."
"Employee engagement to me is the same issue as diversity with a big 'D' - valuing every employee and the contributions every employee can make to the company," he said.
Whether within Boeing walls or outside, Dagnon is an ardent advocate of education. He serves as a trustee for Bellevue Community College in Washington, and is a board member of the Seattle Children's Home and the Foundation for Early Learning, and will continue this service into retirement. Dagnon says the Foundation's mission of preparing young children to learn benefits parents who must entrust their kids' care to others during the workday.
While this won't be Dagnon's first retirement - he "retired" from Burlington Northern for 30 days, but was asked to stay on and assist with the company's merger with Santa Fe - he expects this farewell to stick. But he's still wistful.
"What I'm going to miss is not being here for the very exciting changes
that are ahead for The Boeing Company," Dagnon said. "I almost wish I
were younger so I could be a part of that, but it's time for me to go."
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