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2000 Speeches
Laurette Koellner

Laurette T. Koellner


Boeing Shared Services Group

"Managing Your Career: The Ultimate Solo Flight"

Annual Awards Banquet

Long Beach Chapter

Amelia Earhart Society

Long Beach, California

November 03, 2000

Good evening. It is a great pleasure to address the Long Beach Chapter of the Amelia Earhart Society, and to honor these great people. Congratulations to all of our award winners. You, like the great Amelia Earhart, have faced head-on seemingly insurmountable challenges, and conquered them. It's people like you who make Boeing the great company that it is.

On this evening that we honor our award winners, it seems fitting to speak a bit about overcoming challenges and exceeding expectations. The things I'll talk about can relate to both our personal lives and our work lives, but since we've a limited amount of time, I plan to focus on our work lives, or our professional lives ... about taking charge and taking responsibility for expanding our intellectual capital, and about self-deploying.

Before we address that I'd like to take a few minutes to talk a little about The Boeing Company strategy, because I believe there is a strong correspondence between the company strategy and how we can best manage the direction of our professional lives.

There are three distinct pieces to The Boeing Company strategy. First, manage core businesses well. This means that each and every day, for the businesses and the product lines we have in hand, we must make all of our operating decisions in ways that increase value for the company. This means that we can never take our eye off the ball. Our core businesses are the businesses that are generating the capital that allows us to invest in our future. It's crucial that we manage them well. Second, leverage our core strengths. This means that we should exploit the strengths that make us successful in our core businesses and leverage them into new, but related product lines. It's this type of thinking that will allow us to be successful in pursuing total aerospace solutions, such as services, training, maintenance and financing. Third, enter new frontiers. What an exciting concept - entering new frontiers. For the company, these are businesses like Connexion by Boeing, Exostar, and Commercial Navigation Systems and Air Traffic Management. We have the eye of the customer for these products, we have the installed base for these products, we have the worldwide infrastructure for these products, and we have the intellectual capital for these new frontiers. There is no company in the world in a better position than The Boeing Company to open these new frontiers.

Overcoming challenges and exceeding expectations. This certainly is not new to the people of The Boeing Company. Apollo was arguably the greatest achievement of mankind. Boeing, North American and McDonnell Douglas teamed to build, test and integrate the Apollo Saturn vehicle that carried astronauts across the void of space to the Moon and safely back to Earth.

The 747 ... when it was announced many thought it was impossible in both size and scope, but after only two years we had not only built the world's largest commercial jet transport, but had also constructed the largest building in the world to house its production.

In 1969 the Air Force asked for an aircraft that would define air superiority - We responded with the F-15. For almost thirty years and in some of the highest threat environments around the world, the Eagle has out-flown and out-fought every adversary - and to this day maintains a flawless record of aerial superiority.

Overcoming challenges and exceeding expectations. These are not a new concept for us. Amelia Earhart overcame challenges and exceeded expectations. She had a brilliant career. She was the first to cross the Atlantic twice in an airplane, and the second person ever to fly solo across the Atlantic. Like Amelia, each of us has a responsibility for managing his or her own professional lives. We all have teammates, and many of us have mentors. But at the end of the day, planning and executing our professional path is the ultimate solo flight - for each of us.

I'd like to share a few of my own thoughts on how to make the most of that flight. About exceeding the expectations of others, and, even more importantly, about exceeding our own expectations. Recently, at the senior management offsite here in Southern California, Cheryl Park from Organizational Development said something that really had an impact on me. She was leading an activity related to defining and appreciating employee involvement. During her introduction she asked a very moving question. She asked "Have you ever had a job, or been given an assignment, that was so very challenging, that you wondered 'How could they possibly trust me to do this?'" How could they possible trust me to do this? I submit to you that each and every one of us should always be in a position that is so stimulating, so challenging, so complex that we say to ourselves, and maybe even to others, "How can they possibly trust me to do this?"

In his book, "The Spirit of St. Louis," Charles Lindbergh recalls addressing a group of naval officers on the subject of long-distance aerial navigation. This happens only a few weeks before he takes off on his famous flight from New York to Paris.

"What kind of charts do you intend to use?" one officer asks him.

"The same as you carry on ships at sea," Lindbergh replies.

"Suppose you strike a wind change in the night, and it drifts you far off course?" another asks.

"A navigating error wouldn't be too serious," Lindbergh answers. "This flight isn't like shooting for a tiny little island. I can't very well miss the entire European coast."

Lindbergh got a good laugh with that line. But there is an important point here for all of us. In planning and executing our professional lives in this fast-changing and highly volatile business environment, DON'T AIM FOR THE TINY LITTLE ISLAND when we've got the entire coast before us. I use this analogy in several ways. One way is, don't put limits on your self-expectations. Did the people of the C-17 program put limits on their expectations with they decided to pursue the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige Award? Did the people of the 717 Program put limits on their expectations with they decided to pursue joint FAA and JAA certification on a common basis, or when they decided to perform final assembly on a continuously moving line? Are the people on the International Space Station program putting limits on their expectations as they carry out the largest and most complex international scientific project in history? You are those people, and no, you are not putting limits on your expectations.

Another way I'd like to use the "tiny little island" analogy is in a very specific way, and that is, to caution against targeting for very specific jobs. Too many of us who have done that, who have put all of our eggs in one basket so-to-speak, have found that either through an organizational change, a technological breakthrough, or perhaps even a merger or two, the specific job we pursued is gone. Disappeared. Now, I don't mean to imply that we shouldn't have plans and professional aspirations and direction, but I do mean to suggest that those plans and aspirations should be packaged wisely. I would suggest that instead of targeting specific jobs, that we set some broad guiding principles and then, as opportunities arise, we measure those opportunities to see how well they fit within these broad guiding principles.

We all know that people with a real mission and purpose in life contribute a lot more than those without the same engine and compass. As a teenage girl - years before she became interested in flight - Earhart formulated what amounted to a personal mission statement. She wrote, and I quote, that she wanted a "life of the mind, combined with a life of purpose and action." What's your mission statement? What are the guiding principles that define your objectives in your professional life?

My own guiding principles for decisions about my professional life are defined around enterprise-wide activities, as opposed to program specific activities. For example, mine relate to wide-scale process improvement and implementing change on a broad scale. These types of broadly stated guiding principles can lead us to a variety of places; places that are significantly different than those where we might arrive if we define our objectives in terms of specific jobs. The matter of how we define our objectives determines the places we'll visit. It's by following those types of guiding principles that led me to say, yes, I'll leave Contracts and move into Quality Assurance. And yes, I'll leave Finance and move into HR. And yes, I'll be happy to run that warehouse, and yes I'll be happy to assume responsibility for leading computer operations. Without that broad set of guiding principles, we may never have the opportunity to explore and enjoy the breadth of opportunities offered by our company. Now, others of us, in fact most of us, prefer the focus and excitement of working on a program with specific milestones and product deliveries. Thank goodness for that, as without programs and without products there would be no opportunity to make widespread process changes and process improvements. So, that's great, and the message is the same: don't confine yourself in your long-term thinking to just one program or to just once piece of a program. If you are a program-oriented person, there are scores of wonderful and exciting programs in this company. Be willing to expand your contacts and seek new opportunities. The Boeing slogan of "Forever New Frontiers" applies to each and every one of us.

If Amelia Earhart were alive today and working for Boeing, she would probably be one of our growing numbers of female test pilots. I expect that she would take advantage of the opportunity to flight-test just about every kind of flying machine that we make.

Which brings us to the next point: Over the course of our professional lives, I believe we should pay less attention to moving up and more attention to moving out - seeking new opportunities for personal growth that may not immediately involve a bigger title or more pay. I can say with absolute certainty, the most crucial and the most pivotal moves that I have made in my own career have been lateral, not vertical. These types of moves can involve changing roles within the same functional area, or actually changing functions. I highly recommend the latter.

We learn the most when we are on the move - facing new challenges and demands. What's more, this gives us a whole new perspective on things we think we have already mastered. If you are a financial person who moves into production, you will gain a new perspective not just on production, but finance as well. The same is true about moving from Engineering to production, or production to finance, finance to marketing.

In a significant way, lateral moves are actually easier to make than vertical moves. They depend more upon your own initiative than they do upon accidents of timing or the judgment and discretion of others. One of the great things about lateral moves is that they are usually the result of your own inspiration. In effect, you deploy yourself. I believe there is no faster or surer way of expanding your thinking, building your intellectual capital, and exceeding your own expectations, than voluntary self-deployment and re-deployment through multiple lateral moves.

No one asked Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh to fly solo across the Atlantic. No one asked Bill Boeing, Don Douglas or James McDonnell to build these incredible flying machines that so clearly shaped the course of our lives. They did these things because they wanted to overcome challenges, they wanted to exceed expectations, and they wanted to open new frontiers. I encourage you to do the same. Don't aim for that tiny little island. Set some guiding principles, take a new path in your professional life, and pursue those new frontiers.

Thanks for inviting me tonight. Congratulations again to this year's award winners.