Boeing Frontiers
February 2003
Volume 01, Issue 09
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools

Rising through the ranks

Boeing Wichita employee uses ‘lifelong learning’
as a way to continuously upgrade skills and experience


Rising through the ranksBrian Laughlin and Abraham Lincoln have something in common.

Laughlin, an e-business strategist and pioneer in Web design and development at Boeing in Wichita, Kan., doesn't claim to share the same childhood education or hardships of the legendary Lincoln, who once wrote he attended "some schools so called, but for less than a year altogether."

But what Laughlin does share is Lincoln's zest for learning. With little education, Lincoln became a lawyer by borrowing books to study by candlelight late at night.

Laughlin started work at Boeing as a sheet metal mechanic while a sophomore in college, and after 12 years of Lincolnesque determination finished his Ph.D. dissertation.

"I had aspirations of getting a doctorate all along," Laughlin said. "There were a lot of challenges and sometimes roadblocks before it all happened, but I knew what I wanted."

Laughlin once was laid off from Boeing for two and a half years and used money from his Voluntary Investment Plan to pay the bills while the International Association of Machinists/Boeing Quality Through Training Program paid for his tuition as he pursued his doctorate.

Later, Laughlin spent his lunch hours studying human factors and psychology literally under the wings of Boeing 737s and parts of 747s, 757s, 767s and 777s, and in the process educators say Laughlin became the "poster child" for the Boeing Learning Together Program and the International Association of Machinists/Boeing Quality Through Training Program Education Assistance program. Loughlin has been a part of both programs.

Boeing now holds two patents in Laughlin's name, and four more are in the process. He is a human factors psychologist experienced in usability engineering, human-computer interaction and interface design with special emphasis in Web/Internet/intranet applications. Laughlin said the simplest way to put what he does is to call him, "an engineering psychologist."

Among his accomplishments at Boeing is a project dubbed "min-max," which created open purchase orders for certain parts, then let suppliers manage their production and delivery requirements by viewing Boeing data on real-time parts inventory. The shift from paper to electronic communication allows suppliers to cut inventories greatly and allows customers—internal and external—to see the same data virtually at the same time, thanks to the Internet and electronic commerce applications. Boeing has saved literally hundreds of millions of dollars using the concept and is implementing it throughout the company.

Laughlin also has developed and tested a help menu system and interface design for a Web-based airworthiness information system for the U. S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Laughlin said his job could be called attention management. "I tell people to look at a problem as an opportunity and focus on what needs to be done, not focus on how to do it. In simple terms, machines should work and people should think," he said.

Twelve long years and three college degrees later, Laughlin is an example of what employees can accomplish using Boeing's Learning Together tuition reimbursement program. He also epitomizes Boeing's lifelong employability strategy, in which employees continuously upgrade and broaden their skills and experience through new training, education and work assignments.

An essayist might say it is that individual action that allows dreamers to dream and visions to grow into reality. It's certainly true for both Lincoln and Brian Laughlin—two people who used the tools around them to make the world a better place—and a more educated one.


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