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Boeing Frontiers
April 2004
Volume 02, Issue 11
Boeing Frontiers

Proving Darwin's theory

How adaptability helped ATM's John Hayhurst build a 33-year career at Boeing.


John HayhurstSongwriter Woody Guthrie once said, "Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it."

After riding it like he found it for 33 years with The Boeing Company, Air Traffic Management president John Hayhurst is retiring and heading home to spend more time with his wife, Linda, daughter Anne and son Thomas. He plans to pursue a number of personal interests, including woodworking, satisfying his wide and varied reading interests, and contributing his time to a number of favorite causes.

Adapting to change has been a hallmark of Hayhurst's life, he said: "One of the most important lessons I have learned throughout my life is that change will occur and we must be open to it and embrace it if we want to be successful, both as a company and as individuals."

His attitude worked to the benefit of Boeing, because without that willingness to change, the aerospace industry could have lost out to the chemical industry in the contest for Hayhurst's talents. In high school, he wrote a version of the "what I want to do when I grow up" essay about being a chemical engineer. At the time, the chemical industry appealed to him because there were a number of major chemical plants around his hometown of Parkersburg, W. Va., and he knew many people who worked at them.

Hayhurst entered Purdue University intending to be a chemical engineering major, but at the time, the space race was under way. "I saw the aerospace industry as having great growth potential and I thought the space program would be a fun and challenging place to work," he said. "But, like many long-time Boeing people, I ended up being romanced by airplanes, and I switched majors to aeronautical engineering."

Hayhurst's willingness to accept and adapt to change served him well from day one at Boeing. When he reported for his first day, Hayhurst was told that the job he had accepted had been filled by someone else. The new position involved writing service bulletins for the new 747—not his first job choice. "While I was frustrated by the change in job responsibilities," Hayhurst noted, "I remained optimistic, and was rewarded in surprising ways."

Because the work schedule for service bulletin writers was flexible, Hayhurst was able to alter his schedule each quarter to fit daytime MBA courses around his work. He also learned much more about the 747's systems and structures through the service bulletin process than he had ever learned in school. Plus, because the 747 was Boeing's major new program at the time, his position ended up being much more secure than that of many of his peers.

Most importantly, staying in Seattle led John to meet Linda, whom he married in 1970.

Throughout his Boeing career, Hayhurst found himself in a number of challenging situations, including his 20-month tenure as vice president and general manager of the 737 Program in the late 1990s. At that time, the 737 faced severe production restrictions, in part because suppliers were unable to keep up with the volume of aircraft moving off the line. Many remember this as an extremely stressful time for Boeing, and it was clear that change of some kind was required.

Enter John Hayhurst.

He brought his team together to find a way to solve the issues that threatened the health of the 737, and his calm demeanor both brought the challenges under control and confirmed what James Barry, formerly finance director under Hayhurst, said of his former boss. Even in the face of "trying and difficult times," Barry said, "John was the same calm, thoughtful and trusted leader he has always been."

While Hayhurst saw every new position as an opportunity to learn new things and meet new challenges, his final slot at Boeing came with an unprecedented level of challenge and change. Simply put, his new organization, Air Traffic Management, was asked to revolutionize the way air traffic is managed globally.

Hayhurst credited the people of ATM "for changing the terms of the debate within the ATM community about its future direction." Without their hard work over the past 3 1/2 years, he said, we would not be as far along as we are in "achieving a sufficiently high national priority for air system transformation that the government will be willing to make necessary investments in an infrastructure that is so critical to continued economic growth."

Achieving ATM's goals not only required changing the mindset of people within the government about the need for a new air traffic system, Hayhurst said, "it required changing a mindset within Boeing. Most of us who had worked elsewhere in Boeing were used to working to expand an already established market, but ATM is creating a new market in an already established arena."

Ironically, a person as accepting of change as Hayhurst found himself interested in an area where very little change occurs: the world of trivia and historical facts and figures. Among his staff, Hayhurst's ability to not only name a waterway while flying over it at 35,000 feet but to detail its history is the stuff of legend. Soon after ATM's formation, one staff member jokingly suggested that the internal Web site contain a trivia section called "Stump John."

Given Hayhurst's family background, perhaps it's not too surprising that he has a wealth of knowledge at his disposal. His father was the first in his family to have earned a college degree, and his mother was a teacher for a number of years. Hayhurst credited his parents with having the greatest impact on his life: "They both taught me the importance of working hard, getting a good education and doing my best every day. I try to adhere to those lessons every day, and I think they were instrumental to my success."

These lessons came in handy throughout Hayhurst's career at Boeing. For instance, it took Hayhurst 28 months of doing his best every day to make Boeing history. On Nov. 7, 1985, Hayhurst received word that United Airlines had decided to place firm orders for six 747s and 110 737-300s—a company record, at the time, for the most firm commercial airplane orders in a single transaction. More importantly, from Hayhurst's perspective, every plane United ordered was delivered.

Charitable organizations from Washington state to Washington, D.C., have also benefited from Hayhurst's drive to do his best every day. Among other activities outside Boeing, he has served on the boards of the Puget Sound Blood Center and Virginia-based Wolf Trap, the United States' only national park dedicated to the arts. "John served with great distinction on the Wolf Trap Foundation Board of Directors," said Terrence D. Jones, president and CEO, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. "His valuable contributions have enabled Wolf Trap to bring its premier arts and education programs to a wide range of children and adults, both in our local community and across the country."

Hayhurst said he has no plans to cut back on contributing his time to charitable activities during retirement. "One of my goals in retirement is to donate even more time to worthwhile organizations in order to make my community a better place to live," he said.

Charles Darwin once noted, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." John Hayhurst has spent his life and his career being responsive to change, and that has taken him from the shores of the Ohio River to the Boeing Executive Council and finally home to Puget Sound for another exciting chapter in his ever-changing and evolving life.


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