Red Barn Heritage Award to The Boeing Company

The Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA

W. James McNerney, Jr.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company

June 30, 2014

I already know the highlight of my summer: 35 minutes alone with Bill Boeing Jr. earlier this afternoon!

Bill, thank you for that introduction and for this great honor, which I accept with a great deal of gratitude on behalf of the men and women of Boeing—in particular the more than 80,000 of them located here in Washington (that’s roughly half of the Boeing team), and an estimated 45,000 retirees who call this state home, and upon whose broad shoulders we stand tonight.

The typical speakers’ salutation that “it’s a pleasure to be here” always seems inadequate to me for events held here at the Museum of Flight—and even more so tonight. From touring the exhibits in the Red Barn beforehand, and my meeting with Bill, to the special flying and static displays outside, and, of course, getting a good look at the world’s most famous mailbag, this has been a rich and rewarding experience—or in technical terms for all of you engineers out there, it’s been a lot of fun! And very humbling, too, to take a look at this history.

It’s also great to see so many friends, and current and former colleagues, including two men I’ve grown to appreciate more with each passing day as I walked in their shoes the past nine years; welcome to Frank Shrontz and Phil Condit, and “thank you” for the strategies that put us on the path to become the largest, most capable, and best-integrated aerospace company in the world.

Then there are the family members here from our heritage companies who represent some of America’s great aerospace dynasties. You know the names: Douglas, Kindleberger and, of course, Boeing. I want to extend a special thanks again to you, Bill, not just for your leadership in tonight’s event, but for all you have done over the years on behalf of the company your father founded—not the least of which was making it possible to preserve the original Red Barn and bring it—by barge, no less—into the Museum of Flight.

Finally, a celebration like this, and a history like ours, wouldn’t be possible without significant and sustained community support. We are grateful to all the citizens and community leaders here in the Puget Sound—a region that has been a welcoming and supportive home for hundreds of thousands of Boeing workers and their families over the past century.

What I appreciate most about this award is its recognition that what makes Boeing successful in (and for) the Puget Sound region is the dedication and commitment of our people—their time, their talents, and their willingness to roll up their sleeves to make this community, and this world, a better place. Just one recent but telling example: For this year’s Earth Day, among the thousands of Boeing volunteers making a difference around the world, more than 300 volunteered at 10 sites along the Duwamish Waterway—the original home of the Red Barn, as we all know—to improve and restore nearly 100,000 square feet of public land.

Throughout Boeing, there is a keen appreciation for our company’s deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, I spoke at a labor-management relations conference alongside International Machinists union president Tom Buffenbarger. During that dialogue, and with the best of intentions, I referred to Puget Sound as (get this) the “epicenter” of our Commercial Airplanes business. I was later reminded gently by my PR team that Puget Sound sits on nearly a dozen active fault lines, and I might want to choose a less ominous term of endearment for the region the next time around.

Fair enough, but the facts are Boeing, Puget Sound and the state of Washington have a shared past and a bright future together. We are investing heavily here as we develop and prepare for production of the 737 MAX and the 777X. That activity includes doubling the size of our delivery center to support increased production rates in Renton, and building a new composite wing center in Everett the size of 24 football fields.

These programs and others, including the Air Force Tanker and P-8 Poseidon, represent the future of the company in this region and offer the opportunity for decades of economic prosperity for our employees, the Puget Sound community and the state of Washington. Norm Dicks, thank you for your support on those key military programs—and all things Boeing—during your many years in Congress.

Aerospace—and commercial aviation in particular—remains a near- and long-term growth industry. Yet, our business grows more global and more ruthlessly competitive every day—and our customers expect more from us, for less money, at every turn. As a result, we are constantly making adjustments within our business to respond to our markets, better serve our customers, and continue to grow this company. But even as we’ve expanded our national and global footprint beyond Puget Sound in pursuit of that growth, our success has resulted in the addition of 10,000 new jobs here since 2010—demonstrating that a healthy, growing Boeing is the best answer for everyone. Ray Conner, Scott Carson: You and other leaders here are to be credited for that growth.

I consider it the greatest privilege of my professional life to be associated with Boeing, and all that it means to this community—and the impact it has around the world. And it all began with one man, his vision, perseverance and pioneering spirit.

Like so many of his social peers in that gilded age, our founder could have spent his time on more leisurely pursuits and growing an already profitable, established timber business. But he changed his life (and this country and the world, for that matter) forever—starting 100 years ago next week. After having tried and failed to hitch a flight for a number of years, he finally was able to take a few trips on a barnstormer’s floatplane over Lake Washington on July 4, 1914—sitting on a wing, no seat belts, hanging on (if it was any of us in the room, for dear life, in his case with curiosity) with his bare hands. Afterward, he turned to his friend Conrad Westervelt, who also flew that day, and said, “I think we can build a better one.”  So they did—as the replica in the main gallery beside us attests.

Within one short decade, Bill Boeing would take the airplane from being a marginally useful novelty—essentially a rich-man’s toy—to being the foundation of the U.S. national transportation system. In the process, he also laid the foundation for Seattle’s emergence as a center of innovation in business and technology—a legacy continued not only with Boeing but with Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, and many, many others.

This heritage is very much top of mind as Boeing approaches our centennial in 2016. Ours is a legacy—and set of lessons of innovation and leadership—that extends beyond the founding families’ early tribulations...and reaches around the world.

After the second world war, with no customer orders in-hand, chairman William Allen—his daughters Nancy and Dorothy, I believe are with us today—spent the equivalent of half the company’s value developing what became the Boeing 707, arguably the most consequential commercial transport airplane in history. Explaining that decision, Mr. Allen—a leader still remembered for bold ideas and absolute integrity—simply said it was time somebody “got a jet transport off of paper and into the air.” I love that kind of simplicity.

When a group of Boeing engineers formed a steering committee in 1963 to discuss the potential for a larger size international jetliner, they hardly could have imagined the global impact of the 747—an airplane that has carried more than 5 billion passengers and which just today saw its 1,500th successful delivery. Thank you, Joe Sutter, and the Incredibles.

I believe that the same vision and innovative spirit—grounded firmly in customer needs and marketplace realities—is at work today all across our company. Despite some false impressions drawn from a recent comment I made regarding “moon shots” (teach me to speak metaphorically), our commitment to lead in innovation and develop technology that differentiates in the market place is only getting stronger. What we’re talking about is improving the way we commercialize innovation in a more-for-less world by spiraling in mature technologies on somewhat shorter cycles to get the benefit to our customers faster and at lower cost and less risk to them and us. It’s a high bar (stop and think about it: more technology commercialized more often) that I believe will challenge and inspire our teams to deliver more exciting innovation than ever before.

To wrap this up: I have to say that seeing that new 787-9—the latest and most efficient member of our game-changing Dreamliner family—side-by-side with the historic Model 40C tonight literally gave me chills, especially watching it with Bill. And it underscored that Boeing and the Puget Sound region have come a long way, together!

Even as we rightfully celebrate this remarkable heritage, the answer to today’s economic and scientific challenges is not to simply bathe in nostalgia and the glories of the past, but to apply the same sense of wonder, inspiration, invention, partnership and willingness to dream big ... to solve the great aerospace challenges of our time.

That’s who we are. And it is what we will continue to do together as we build a bigger, better Boeing for our second century.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Bill!