Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
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Members of land donation project teamAlan Kay, the father of the modern laptop computer, once wrote, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Employees at the Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fabrication Division in Auburn, Wash., went one step further.

Finding themselves in the midst of consolidation and contraction, they made the future a place in which they, their families and their community could thrive.

For years, Auburn employees had wanted a fitness facility onsite. But fitness is not billable fabrication work, and such things can find themselves at the low end of a manufacturing facility's priority list. Then, along came the downturn in the commercial airplanes market, and the division was suddenly faced with a requirement to dispose of underutilized land at the site.

Seeing the event as a serendipitous opportunity as well as a business challenge, a team of Fab workers, which included John Byrne, division Business Operations director and YMCA board member, proposed a radically new concept to Boeing.

"We suggested donating the land, instead of selling it," Byrne said. "In return, Boeing and several of its partners in the community—the City of Auburn, the YMCA and Junior Achievement—would create a place where employees and the community could have access to a quality family center with fitness facilities, as well as a first-class learning environment for children and young adults, including courses introducing them to personal finance and business.

"The new site would also allow these agencies to concentrate services to meet the growing needs of everyone who calls south King County home."

The suggestion that Boeing make the largest land grant in company history was met with encouragement from Laurette Koellner, then head of Shared Services Group and Boeing Realty. But it took another 18 months of negotiation with municipal civic and corporate governing bodies to see the plan to fruition.

"It was a win-win for everybody—for Boeing, our employees, the not-for-profit agencies involved and the community," said Liz Otis, vice president and general manager of the Fabrication Division in Auburn. "The coordination it took to resolve issues and remove roadblocks made this the ultimate 'working together' opportunity."

In the end, Boeing donated more than 23 acres of land for development of new facilities for the Auburn Valley YMCA and a Junior Achievement learning center called "Experience JA."

"This project demonstrated how leadership is about recognizing opportunities to do things differently," said Otis. "It's about selling a vision, building support and refusing to take 'no' for an answer. It's also about finding a way and compromising to reach a destination, despite countless U-turns, right turns and dead-ends. Ultimately, it's about empowering employees to lead from all levels— not just from a position of management."

—Dan Walling



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