Boeing Frontiers
August 2003
Volume 02, Issue 04
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Boeing in Belgium

Facility: Boeing-Europe (Boeing International Corp.) office

Location: Brussels, Belgium

Employees: 55 full-time employees (29 permanent American expatriate employees; 26 local European hires)

Business units represented:
Commercial Airplanes, Shared Services Group, World Headquarters, Air Traffic Management, Boeing Capital Corp.

Some key functions:
Serve as European headquarters for Commercial Airplanes sales, aviation services and support, marketing and communications; serve as Boeing liaison among key European policymakers in areas including environment and air traffic management as well as European Union and NATO; function as base for Information Technology and Security teams that support Boeing's Europe operations.

Brussels is in many ways the place where ideas, thoughts and policies that govern the European continent—and much of the Western world—take shape. Home to headquarters of the European Union and NATO, the city is a cosmopolitan mélange of diverse languages, cultures and peoples.

So it's only fitting that the Boeing-Europe office, located within this strategic city, also possess a multinational staff that hails from across the EU and from around the world. Like the political and diplomatic institutions that dominate this city, the Boeing office is itself in the midst of a transition, moving from one that was completely Commercial Airplanes-focused to one that's taking advantage of the diverse strengths available throughout the entire enterprise.

Certainly small in Boeing terms, the Brussels site is home to 55 full-time employees—29 of whom are permanent American expatriate employees, with the other 26 being "local hires." In European Union terms, "local" means these staffers hail from one of the 15 countries represented under this umbrella.

Employees from Commercial Airplanes make up the majority at the Brussels office. Brought here in 2000 to make key sales and marketing executives more accessible to their European customers—and in Airbus' backyard, no less—the Commercial Airplanes team has continued to grow. But with 24 Shared Services Group workers—not to mention far smaller numbers of World Headquarters, Air Traffic Management and Boeing Capital Corp. employees—the office's two floors are becoming more diverse and more crowded.

That's a good thing, says Marlin Dailey, Commercial Airplanes vice president of European Sales—but it's also a welcome challenge.

"The biggest issue—and this is where I hope the [Boeing] International Relations organization can help us—is working integrated strategies across business units," said Dailey, the senior Commercial Airplanes executive on the Brussels team and the man who helped set up the Boeing- Europe office with Toby Bright (then Commercial Airplanes vice president of Sales for Europe and Russia) three years ago.

Besides being home to business units that actively sell and market the company's products and high-tech capabilities, the Brussels location now houses Joris Vos, who in March was named to the newly created position of Boeing president for European Union and NATO Relations. Vos—a former ambassador who has more than 30 years of experience interacting with governmental organizations—is charged with representing Boeing at all European Union institutions and at NATO.

Even though business units operate independently, Vos believes International Relations can help by providing "added value" for ongoing sales campaigns in Europe. Ultimately, that's what it's about—creating a cohesive "one Boeing" strategy that increases the company's regional footprint and drives growth across the enterprise.

Accessibility is the key

In Europe—as is true in many parts of the world—Boeing presence means everything. And this office's establishment in 2000, which relocated much of the European sales function from Puget Sound to Brussels, is already paying dividends.

"The customer absolutely loves having this kind of attention locally," said Dan da Silva, vice president of Customer Support -Europe for Commercial Aviation Services. "Any airline that is within an hour, an hour and 20 minutes away can call me in the morning and I can be in their office in two to three hours."

Constantly out meeting with European customers, da Silva works with Dailey and his team on sales campaigns helping "to identify where Commercial Aviation Services can offer more value than just the airplane.

"If there's one place in the world where the perception of Airbus' support quality is superior, that place is Europe. The challenge it creates is we have to perform better here than any other place in the world to even create the perception of parity."

And it's a challenge the Boeing team is meeting, da Silva says.

Customers "have seen differences in how Boeing behaves vis-à-vis our services and support, and that helped us a lot in the marketplace."

BelgiumEven outside of direct sales, "We turn up the pressure on our main competitor," said Customer Relations Manager Liz Venables, a United Kingdom native who's charged with helping Commercial Airplanes sales executives develop, nurture and maintain relationships with their European customers. It's at events such as Wimbledon and the company's annual European Sales Golf Tournament where the Boeing team gets a chance to build up-close-and-personal relationships with about 60 of its key customers.

"Now all of a sudden," she said, "we show we're a huge company. I think we're showing by being here that we are prepared to take on that challenge and head off our main competitor in this way."

In fact, customers who've attended Boeing-Europe events have told Venables "how important they thought it was for Boeing to have a presence here, not just one person" in an office. "And I hope I'm contributing to the knowledge that we're here."

Other Boeing business areas are doing the same. Fabio Gamba, for example, is a Boeing Air Traffic Management Business Development manager who's building relationships with Eurocontrol, a body similar to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. He's helping put Boeing in position to vie for contracts that can result from partnerships with European stakeholders—but without being viewed negatively as a competitor for European businesses.

"I feel in Europe, especially in the Mediterranean countries, a personal relationship," is especially important, says Gamba, an Italian-Swiss dual national. "You could do everything from the United States, but this particular aspect of talking to people, letting people know you are available immediately," is key.

A veritable melting pot

To hear employees tell it, even a routine stroll through the office can sound like a modern-day Tower of Babel—and in a good way. Belgium is home to two official languages—French and Flemish, a tongue generally regarded as the Belgian variant of Dutch. Most things in Brussels—including street signs—are printed in both.

"On any given day," said Security Operations Director Verdonn Simmons, "you'll hear Flemish, French, you'll hear German, you'll hear Dutch. I'll walk into an office where the director's on the phone speaking German, his assistant walks in and starts speaking French, and I walk in and start speaking English, all at the same time."

To Simmons—a 15-year Boeing veteran who relocated to Brussels from Seattle three years ago—this cultural and linguistic mix makes his job interesting. Often on the road because of his Boeing Security responsibilities throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, his team includes both American expatriates and locally-hired staffers.

"It's a blast," he said. You have to embrace diversity. If you have diversity hang-ups, you're going to have a problem."

And it's important, says Dailey, for the office's American workers to develop a real respect for the different cultures, perspectives and work environments they find here—whether traditionally shorter European workdays or bureaucratic red tape they encounter when trying to get things done.

"We're guests," said Dailey, "and we need to try and understand the culture as best we can, and embrace it and support it."

Here in this office, located outside the bustle of central Brussels, Air Traffic Management employees sit next to Commercial Airplanes reps, and People people are housed next door to environmental policy directors. But folks realize that they're all players on the same team.

"That," said Linda Seber, who provides People support to Boeing employees in Europe, "makes the cohabitation interesting."

Staying connected

But while an amazing sense of camaraderie exists among Brussels employees, some admit that they feel a bit disconnected from the larger Boeing world. Local hires—especially those in support functions—often haven't visited key Boeing facilities in the United States or elsewhere.

That's why Seber (currently on personal leave) believes that one of her main functions is to serve as a liaison between the corporate Boeing and Brussels office employees. Because they aren't always on the same e-mail and information distribution lists that stateside employees take for granted, said Seber, "sometimes they feel their input is not as valued."

"Internally, I feel very much like an ambassador from a human resources standpoint," said Seber, who was recently named the company's first international regional Human Resources leader for Europe and Russia. A dual Turkish-Belgian national, she considers herself an "ambassador of policies and procedures and Boeing culture. It's more of a go-between to explain to each party what are the needs and requirements to get to a win-win situation."

Another way Boeing-Europe employees keep current on happenings around the enterprise is through brief stand-up meetings held every Monday morning. Led by members of the Commercial Airplanes communications team, the friendly, informal weekly meetings give Brussels workers—from office administrators to vice presidents—a chance to gather, hear company news and recognize how their work fits into the larger Boeing world.

And while Venables admits that the office's relatively remote location gives it a comfortable sense of autonomy, she hopes that others throughout Boeing "know we're here and can be deployed" on the company's behalf.

Brussels employees, said Dailey, are involved in industry associations, attend key events and make a point of doing local speaking engagements. He says that as the office continues to mature, community relations will play an even greater role.

That's one thing Belgium native Herbert Lust takes seriously. His work as director for Europeon Union and NATO Relations puts him in touch with nongovernmental organizations as well as community groups and activists concerned about aviation's impact on the environment. He says he spends about half his time explaining Boeing policies to Europe, and the other half helping make Boeing aware of ways it can continue improvement in this area.

But local involvement on the part of Boeing-Europe employees goes beyond presentations, formal meetings and executive-packed industry dinners. Back in May, several Boeing-Europe employees ran in "Les 20 Km de Bruxelles" (the "20 Km door Brussel" in Flemish) semi-marathon. Despite their small numbers, Boeing runners have participated in this city of Brussels-sponsored event since 2001, using the weekend event to get out into the community while also building internal camaraderie and relationships.

"It's important to recognize people do view us as representatives of The Boeing Company," said Dailey, himself one of the May marathon runners. "I tell my entire team they have to continue to do Boeing proud in everything we do."


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