Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
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SHUFFLING THE DECKThe phone rang for what must have been the 10th or 12th time, interrupting Scott Carson's train of thought. The Connexion by Boeing president knew the voice on the other end would belong to his sales director, Stan Deal, as it had with the previous calls.

"What's your recommendation?" Carson asked. Deal was quiet for a moment. Hard as it was to walk away from a proposed venture involving the nation's three largest airlines, Deal couldn't avoid it. "We have to let them go."

There had been tentative agreement, announced with great fanfare just weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, to pursue a venture with the airlines and bring broadband Internet and data services to flight. The airlines would have equipped 1,500 planes—11 percent of the world's fleet—with the Connexion by Boeing service. Now, in the weeks after Sept. 11, the airline industry shifted commercial aviation's focus sharply from capital investment to sheer survival.

Carson had reached the same conclusion, even though he knew it could mean the end of the program. The market environment had changed, so adapting quickly was essential in order to minimize risk and take advantage of new opportunities. The team would have to get smaller, so it reduced its work force by about one-third—though Boeing redeployed many elsewhere and actually laid off only a handful.

"We were blessed with a skilled, motivated and solutions-oriented team. We'd talk about what we had to do, discuss briefly all the reasons why it couldn't be done, and then we'd go out and do it," Carson said. "We met each of our commitments and met them on time, and each accomplishment lifted the morale and confidence of the entire team."

The team also had to revise the planned service rollout to reflect the new reality. Connexion by Boeing's business plan had been built on the presumption that airlines would initially deploy the service in the United States. After Sept. 11, a path forward would require the first deployments to be international. This approach represented a greater challenge.

Yet the enterprise already had a head start internationally. Its lone remaining customer was Lufthansa German Airlines. Adapting a strategy from the successful Boeing 777 program, Connexion invited 15 airlines worldwide to the first Connexion Working Together session in January 2002.

Despite the financial turbulence and cost cutting throughout the airline industry, the participants showed up.

"That was a key indicator that we were on the right track," said Sean Schwinn, director of Strategy and Business Development.

Within 10 months, three more customers were on board: British Airways, Japan Airlines and Scandinavian Airline Systems. All had been part of Connexion Working Together.

—Sean Griffin


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