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A. B. Wilson Communications

Managing Your Career: The Ultimate Solo Flight

Given by Laurette Koellner, Vice President, Corporate Controller, The Boeing Company Annual Awards BanquetLong Beach Chapter, Amelia Earhart Society November 3, 2000

Good evening. It is a great pleasure to address the Long Beach Chapter of the Amelia Earhart Society, and to honor people who – like the great Amelia – have exceeded expectations.

Amelia Earhart 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 is responsible for managing his or her own career.  We all have teammates, and we may have mentors.  But, at the end of the day, planning and managing a career is the ultimate solo flight – for each of us.

Tonight I would like to provide a few thoughts on how to make the most of that flight – exceeding your own as well as other people’s expectations. I will cite a few lessons from the first people to cross the Atlantic by air. I will also draw upon some of Boeing’s history.

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 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 an 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 a career in a fast-changing and highly unpredictable business environment, such as we have today, you don’t want to aim for too small a target.  It is a great mistake to target a specific job, because organizational or technological change may cause the job you want to disappear.  On the other hand, it is critically important that you have some kind of a flight plan that sets some broad parameters and gives some definite direction to your career.

We all know that people with a real mission and purpose in life do a lot better 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.”

As a company, we, Boeing, have a mission statement of our own.  It reads: “Working together as one company for aerospace leadership.”  That’s a little more specific (we are, after all, an 84-year-old company), but it is still extremely broad. You may want to devise a mission statement of your own.

You can begin by asking whether Boeing is the right company for you.  As the company mission statement suggests, we insist on teamwork – working together. Moreover, this is one company – not a collection of different and essentially autonomous companies. Finally, Boeing is about leadership – leadership in the field of aerospace.  Are you comfortable and in sync with those three elements?

Assuming you are, which, of several different work environments within this company, is best suited for you?  I, for one, have always liked to work in a headquarters, or an enterprise-wide, type of environment. I like the daily change and variety that comes with interacting with a lot of different businesses and products.  Others, I know, prefer the focus and action of working within one program over a period of time. That’s great.  But don’t confine yourself in your long-term thinking to just one program.  If you are a program-oriented person, within this one great company, there are scores of wonderful and exciting programs. But you must be willing to expand your contacts and seek new opportunities. 

If Amelia Earhart were alive today and working for Boeing, she would probably be one of our growing number of female test pilots. I expect that she would take advantage of the opportunity to flight-test just about every kind of airplane we make – military and commercial, fixed-wing and rotary. 

That brings me to my next point.  Over the course of a career, I believe that people should pay less attention to moving up and more attention to moving out – seeking new opportunities for personal growth that may not involve a bigger title or more pay. Certainly, the most important moves that I have made in my own career have been lateral, not vertical.  I have moved around from accounting and finance to overhead management, contracts and pricing, labor relations and negotiations, computer operations, safety and environmental services, procurement, and several other activities besides.

We learn the most when we are on the move – facing whole 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.  Conversely, if you go from production to finance, it will give you a whole new slant on production as well as finance.

Lateral moves are much 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. That’s one of the great things about lateral moves: You deploy yourself.  There is no faster or surer way of expanding your thinking and building your intellectual capital than voluntary self-deployment through multiple lateral moves.

Bill Boeing made a lateral move when he went from building boats to building boat planes.  In entering the aircraft business, he didn’t make any more money or achieve any greater recognition – at least not initially.  Boeing had a passion for designing and building things out of wood.  Those were his parameters, if you will.  Just as he already proven to his own satisfaction that he could build a better boat, so he set out to build a better plane.  In doing so, he both had his cake and ate it, too – drawing upon his intellectual capital, and, at the same time, expanding it.

If you set the right parameters, and you are willing to continually deploy and re-deploy yourself, I think you will have no trouble living up to the spirit of my third and last piece of advice regarding the planning and management of a satisfying career. 

Don’t wait to be asked; take empowerment to the max.

A colleague of mine in Seattle gave the best description of empowerment that I have ever heard.  This person – and she is not, by the way, a member of senior management – told me that her job was “so challenging and exciting,” that she couldn’t “understand how anyone could have trusted her to do it in the first place.”  Those are the words of an empowered person, someone who is exceeding expectations all over the place – even including her own.

I wish everyone in The Boeing Company felt as she did.   We have all heard Phil and Harry and others talk about empowerment.  But it is up to each of us to self-empower and self-deploy. 

No one asked Amelia or Lindbergh to do a solo flight across the Atlantic.  No one asked Bill Boeing to build an airplane.  They did these things because they wanted to.  They did them because they wanted to open new frontiers. Similarly, we, as individuals, must decide how we are going to expand frontiers for ourselves . . . and for others who are working with us or for us. To do that we must be prepared to do battle from time to time with the internal bureaucracy in our organizations.  But even more than that, we have to be prepared to fight against our own inertia – or what one poet described as “mind-forged manacles.”

At the outset, I asked you to ask yourself whether you were working for the right company.  I didn’t do that to shock anyone. If you intend to build a good career inside this one company, there must be a basic harmony between you as an individual and the company as a whole.

With that in mind, I do want to say a few things about where we are going as a company.  If there is one way that the Boeing of today differs from the Boeing of two or three years ago, it is in having a more intense and clearer focus on business.  To be the real leader in aerospace today is not just a matter of how far, how high or how fast.  It is a matter of how well can we run our businesses for the mutual advantage of our customers and shareholders.

There are three things that we – the Boeing team – must do in order to succeed today, tomorrow and far into the future.

  • First, we have to run our core businesses exceptionally well.
  • Second, we have to leverage our intellectual capital and our knowledge of the customer in growing new products and services.
  • Third, we must continue to open new frontiers, and continue to lead, not follow, in major advancements in aerospace and communications.

What does it take to run core businesses exceptionally well?   One thing is a strong business mentality, which is what you have when every manager and leader is well versed in the basic mechanics of business. By that I mean having a thorough appreciation of how cash flows in and out of a business, both short-term and over extended periods of time.  A knowledge of accounting and finance is as fundamental to running a business as keeping the engine oiled, knowing how to change the fan belt and watching the fuel gauge are to running a car.  You don’t have to be an MBA to understand basic financial concepts anymore than you have to be an engineer to understand how an engine works.   Make sure that his knowledge is part of your intellectual capital – indeed, part of the way you think – if you aspire to be a leader within this company.

It is amazing what you can accomplish when people act as a team – and have a thorough understanding of the exact requirements for success – technically, logistically and financially.

We, as a company, have far exceeded Wall Street’s expectations over the last several quarters.  That is due in large part to getting the commercial aircraft side of the house back into good working shape.  Did you know that the average number of hours required to assemble a 737 has fallen from 30,000 down to just 10,000?  Part of the turnaround in commercial has come through a much better business focus.  That’s something that those of you who work in the C-17 program understand very well indeed.  Several years ago, everyone who was a part of that program came face-to-face with the realization that a financially healthy program was the only kind of a program that could possibly survive in an era of huge defense cutbacks.

We have healthy core businesses inside Boeing today.  Through a variety of new services to our military and commercial customers, we are leveraging our intellectual capital and finding new ways to grow the top and bottom lines.  Whatever some of the skeptics may think, we are pushing new frontiers. We haven’t stopped with putting a man on the moon.  Just look at Space Station.  Look at the National Missile Defense.  Look at Conexion by Boeing.  Look at the new space- imaging capabilities we have acquired with Hughes.

As I see it, we are fortunate to be a part of what Harry Stonecipher has called “An Aerospace Dream Team.”  There is no other aerospace company in the world that comes close to matching the breadth and depth of capabilities . . . and aspirations . . . that we have inside this one company

There is no limit to the opportunities for people to move around and find new avenues for personal and professional growth within this company.  The Leadership Center in St. Louis is our crossroads.  I urge all of you who can to use it to broaden your horizons and maximize your potential.  Boeing also provides some of the most liberal benefits of any company in the world for all those who wish to build their intellectual capital by pursuing further studies and education.

I am going to close these remarks with three uplifting words.  They should be familiar to all of you from our new advertising campaign.

In remembering the always questing and fearless Amelia Earhart, and in reflecting on your future within The Boeing Company, I wish you all –

Forever New Frontiers.

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Andrew B. Wilson

26 Taylor Place Drive
St. Louis, MO 63108
Phone: (314) 361-1195

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