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1998 Speeches

Harry C. Stonecipher

President & COO

The Boeing Company

"The Power of a Vision"

Fifth Annual Companywide Energy Resources, Conservation & Recycling Conference

Seattle, Washington

June 01, 1998

When I accept a speaking engagement, I always try to be a good soldier. I do my best to follow orders. Kirk Thomson, who invited me to address you this morning, said it was your wish that I should talk about my "vision for the future" of the new Boeing Company. So that is what I will talk about.

Let's begin with the question:

What is a vision?

Is there any power in a vision? Any substance? For our purposes, is a "vision" anything more than the latest fad or buzzword to hit the corporate world?

The dictionary defines a vision as "the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be."

That doesn't take us very far. Some people may be able to imagine the future in brilliant Technicolor -- with a sound track that puts the Titanic to shame. But for a vision to matter, it must have the power (when enunciated by strong leaders) to move people and events.

That is to say, the power to move them in a set direction . . . over a long period of time . . . toward a distant goal . . . that is worthy of hard work, perseverance and sacrifice.

Let me tell you a story that demonstrates the power of that kind of vision.

The story is about Abraham Lincoln, at an important turning point in the Civil War. Union General George Meade had just won a great victory over Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. But as Lee was beating a retreat, Meade was slow in his pursuit. As a result, Lee escaped, back to Virginia, with much of his army intact.

When Meade boasted of his success in "driving every vestige of the invader from our soil," Lincoln was not at all pleased. He was infuriated.

"Drive the invader from our soil!" he cried. "My God! Is that all? Will our generals never get the idea: The whole country is our soil."

Lincoln had a vision. To him, it was a mighty compass -- guiding his action through every crisis and through every twist and turn in the war. At the center of his vision was the idea of one country -- whole and indivisible.

From the inception of the conflict, Lincoln never wavered in his commitment to the idea that the United States must endure as one country, dedicated -- in his words -- to the proposition of "government of the people, by the people and for the people." If that was only possible through unconditional victory, so be it -- he would keep changing his generals until he found the one who would produce it. (It turned out to be Ulysses Grant.) Even in the darkest days of the war, Lincoln would not contemplate a compromise solution that would end the bloodshed at the cost of giving up the ideal of union.

Think of how much different the history of our nation . . . and the world . . . would have been . . . if Lincoln had lacked a vision, or if he had faltered in his purpose, as he could so easily have done.

If the United States had not survived as one country, it is doubtful whether freedom and democracy would have survived and flourished as they have on this continent. It is even more doubtful that the American people would have become a beacon of hope and freedom to other peoples -- and that this nation would have come to the rescue of other nations in two world wars and countless other conflicts.

As a company, we, too, have a vision. Like Lincoln's vision, it is a compass, not a placebo. It will lead us to a better future. But only by helping us remain true to ourselves and to the best that is within us.

Our vision statement reads: "People Working Together as One Company for Global Aerospace Leadership."

I will break that into several parts, and review each in turn.

It starts with People, and working together.

I won't repeat the old cliché that "People are our most important asset," because I think the statement is demeaning, or even insulting.

First, a company owns its assets, but it doesn't own people.

Second, one expects company assets to depreciate -- to wear out with time and lose their value. But if you do your job right, in leading a company or business, you enable people to appreciate -- to increase in value, as a result of being given the opportunity to grow and develop, and to become increasingly involved in and excited by the business of the company.

In fact, that is one of the single most important lines of demarcation in the business world. The best companies almost always run a surplus in developing and producing highly motivated and capable people. They are net exporters of leadership talent. The not-so-good companies run a chronic deficit in this regard. They are net importers.

We don't want our company to be dependent upon others when it comes to developing future leaders and filling top jobs . . . nor can we afford to lag rather than lead when it comes to enabling people at all levels to develop to their maximum potential.

For this reason, we have thoroughly revamped and upgraded our People Policies over the past nine months. As one example, we are prepared to invest a considerable amount of money in enabling people to go back to school . . . and to pursue other interests . . . that fit under the banner of "lifelong learning."

Working together is not just a nice-sounding phrase. It is a competitive necessity -- at both the micro and the macro level.

We must make rapid progress in many parts of our business in driving down costs and improving first-time quality. We won't get there by doing the same things better; we have to do things differently. Thus, we must find new and creative ways of working together at the micro level -- in enabling and encouraging the people who do the work to take matters into their own hands to achieve major improvements in cost, quality and flow times.

It is equally imperative that we find new and creative ways of working together at the macro level. There is a superabundance of opportunities for synergy within the new Boeing Company -- given good communication, teamwork and a constant cross-fertilization of ideas ... from military to commercial . . . and back the other way . . . and between all space businesses and our other businesses involving things that fly within the earth's atmosphere.

One Company.

Those two words stand at the very center of our vision statement.

For all the talk about synergy, we will reap no real benefit from amassing a $45 billion business (apart from the elimination of duplicative costs in some areas), until we develop the habit of thinking . . . and acting . . . as one company.

By one company I mean a company where people are bound together by a sense of common purpose and shared destiny, yet, at the same time, are free to move about and seek new opportunities within the farthest boundaries of the company.

Think of what that can mean to you! Within the limits of your own ambitions and capabilities, you can aspire to any position you want in this great big company, and you will find yourself surrounded by friends and colleagues wherever you go.

Perhaps we have spent too much time talking about heritage Rockwell, heritage McDonnell Douglas, and heritage Boeing.


How many of you agree ???

We are all one company.

To paraphrase Lincoln, we should have the feeling, deep in our bones: The whole company is our soil. It belongs to each and all of us.

This is a message that applies as much to the purchase, distribution and conservation of energy as it does to any other activity in our company.

Right now, we are spending upwards of $200 million a year just for electricity. But the cost per kilowatt hour is twice as high in some states -- notably California -- as it is in others. Why not buy electricity where we can get it cheaply -- and transmit it to points of need, wherever they are? Why not, indeed, given the advent of energy deregulation in California and the prospect of liberalization in other states as well?

I know that some of you are already putting together a strategy for making that happen. Once you come up with a strategy, you will have to sell it to all of our businesses -- from commercial aircraft and fighter aircraft to missiles, space and electronics. You will have to persuade a lot of people to do things differently.

I therefore challenge each of you to act as a real leader in carrying the one company message forward to every city and state where we have significant operations. You can make a real difference, in cutting costs, conserving resources and promoting change.

The last few words in our vision statement concern the mission or purpose of our company, which is Global Aerospace Leadership.

As Phil Condit has said, "this is not about being second best." It is about being the best in the global aerospace business in every important way -- first in the excellence of our products, first in value delivered for the cost, first in timeliness and in customer satisfaction, first in the estimation of people who work in the aerospace industry, and, finally and critically, first in financial performance and return to shareholders.

I do not intend to launch into an extended discussion here about the current performance of our different groups and businesses, and of the company as a whole. We can talk about those things in the Q & A, and I urge you to ask me anything you like.

But I will make a couple of points before sitting down and inviting your questions and comments.

The first is: Everything you heard that I said about recent financial performance is absolutely true -- including the use of words like "rotten," "terrible" and "embarrassing." I haven't been misquoted in any of the news stories.

Yes, I am extremely unhappy, and I would like to think that my unhappiness over our recent failure to produce either a decent profit or better results for our shareholders is shared by everyone in this company.

Our overall financial position is still very strong . . . and our reputation as a company is still very solid. Nevertheless, it would be a grave mistake for any of us to think we haven't been jolted by some of the negative events of the past six months . . . and that we aren't being tested right now. News about the troubles at Boeing has circulated around the world -- to every airline, to every member of the traveling public, to every customer and supplier, and to every serious investor.

The whole world's watching . . . to see whether we have what it takes to bounce back and show that Boeing is better than ever. Without a doubt, we have to wage a war on cost and inefficiency inside this company that will go beyond anything we have done before. Each of you has a role to play in helping us win the war on cost.

My second point is this: Be dissatisfied, but not despondent.

This is a great company with a great future.

Nobody can beat us but ourselves.

And it is totally within our power to go out and beat every one of our principal competitors in the aerospace industry.

We are . . . or we can be . . . that good.

There is a new Boeing Company.

I am thrilled to be a part of it.

And I hope you feel the same way.