June 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 2 
Special Features
 
A winning formula A winning formula
A winning formula A winning formula

BY PATRICIA SOLOVEICHIK

Julie-Ellen Acosta at a glance

Current position: Vice president of Structural Technologies, Prototyping and Quality, Phantom Works

Experience: Joined Boeing in 1985 as a systems engineer. Served in several lead engineering roles on military programs including the F-4 Navigation and Weapon Delivery System and Air Force One. Held various positions for Commercial Airplanes in Wichita, Kan. Among these roles: director of Quality and Process Improvement for Commercial Airplanes at the Boeing Wichita site, director of 757 Structures, and Structures Design manager for 737 Next-Generation Fuselage Structures.

Education: Masterís degree in electrical engineering, Wichita State University, 1984. Bachelorís degree in electrical engineering, Wichita State University, 1980.

Located: Seattle

Jumping into the deep end of uncertain waters isn’t a comfortable
sensation for most of us. But for Julie-Ellen Acosta, it’s a familiar one.

She’s repeatedly accepted positions that took her out of her technical specialty, away from her core customers, and a long way from home. Learning, both formally and informally, came to be a way of life, and the risk-taking side of her nature has become a defining feature in her success.

“To some it might seem like starting over,” Acosta says, “but I grew to love every one of those new experiences.”

She moved from military products to commercial products, from electrical engineering to structures, from technical work to operations, from production to quality. And now she’s doing work that again seems like foreign territory. As vice president of Structural Technologies, Prototyping and Quality for Boeing Phantom Works, her job is to understand both emerging technologies and business unit needs in the hope of blending the two to create new, valuable applications for existing products, as well as for those in development.

“This exposure to the art of the possible and then tying it back to reality has been a wonderful experience,” says Acosta.

Her first-hand experience at all stages of design, development and manufacturing is the perfect backdrop for her new responsibilities. Her team must help keep Boeing competitive in the current marketplace through applied advanced technologies, but also make sure that the company is investing wisely in its future. Collaborating with researchers, universities and industry leaders around the world, she does what she does best: connect the dots.

Acosta was persuaded to join Boeing in Wichita, Kan., 20 years ago as an electrical engineer from Learjet. She then proceeded to prove herself as someone who could connect the dots in her job as a systems engineer.

“I was lucky,” she says. “I got right in the middle of a proposal and saw it all the way through to implementation, first as a systems engineer, then as a lead engineer, and finally as prime engineer.”

It was eye opening and exhausting. Acosta spent a grueling three years, working almost constantly on the F-4 Phantom II Navigation and Weapon Delivery System program and then as “shipside” lead engineer on Air Force One.

Acosta then took another chance and decided to cross-train into structures, making the leap from being an electrical engineer in military to being in a product support function for Commercial Airplanes.

“Manufacturing was the next big challenge,” Acosta says. “You have to have your feet to the fire—to be accountable.”

Responsible for the 757 in Wichita, she learned that Operations is a 24/7 job. And she loved it.

“All the parts, plans and tools must come together efficiently,” she says. “It’s the ultimate puzzle for an engineer; something to unravel.”

Acosta moved to Seattle last July, leaving her post as director of quality for Wichita, to work with a team of Phantom Works scientists whose job it was to work in the realm of theory—a far cry from her execution-driven work style.

Her new challenge is managing a virtual team and thinking in the future tense while also living very much in the present with the deadlines, deliveries and execution applied to near-term technologies for current programs.

“Once, I seldom had time to think about what technologies we need to develop for sustaining and growing a company,” she says.

That is now her full-time job.

 

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