Boeing vs Boeing’s Stakeholders

The Boeing corporation has had a special place in my heart since I was young, even though I have spent much of my career working for their European rival. As my last assignment on the Sloan programme I was very happy to cover Boeing, delve a little into its current problems, and offer some insight into how it might recover. I enjoyed the research on this topic so much that I decided to share it with you. Unfortunately a lot of it doesn’t make pretty reading, as you might expect..


A brief history of Boeing

Boeing came into prominence as a commercial aircraft manufacturer in the mid-1950s when it saw a market opportunity to leverage its expertise and create commercial jet powered airliners. At the time this was considered a bold move; several European manufacturers had already tried and failed, some with catastrophic results. However, perhaps more importantly, key customers were very sceptical. C.R. Smith, CEO of American Airlines stated that “the time was not yet ripe for jets, and that nobody would ever buy a Boeing jet” (Leonard, n.d.). The CEO of United Airlines went one step further and placed an order with the then market leader; Douglas, that was purposely large enough to incentivise them to delay jet engine development in favour of maintaining the production of piston engine airliners.

Boeing’s gamble paid off, which resulted in a prolonged period of market domination, effectively monopolising the airline industry and holding a market share of over 90% well into the mid 1980’s (Thomson Reuters, 2012). During this time, Boeing gained an unparalleled reputation for building the best aircraft in the world, which reflected its core focus on engineering excellence (Kay, 2004).

Airbus v Boeing

Figure 1: Boeing vs Airbus market share, 1973 to 2010 (Thomson Reuters, 2012)

Since the 1980’s, Boeing has seen its market share slowly eaten away by Airbus (Refer to Figure 1 above) and the two organisations now share a market duopoly. In March 2019 Boeing entered perhaps the most difficult period of its celebrated history when the latest version of its 1960’s designed 737 ‘MAX’ aircraft was deemed unsafe to fly. There is a strong argument that Boeing’s current predicament has been brought about from an approach of prolonged radical shareholder primacy. A profoundly accurate warning against this approach was given by fortune magazine some 19 years ago:

doesn’t Condit (Boeing’s then CEO) ever worry that 20 years from now people will be writing about the big bet (the next new aircraft) Boeing failed to make? Does he ever wonder what his legendary forebears, who famously scorned bean-counting, would think of a company whose stock price flashes incessantly on the desktops of its executives and the walls of its leadership centre?” (Useem, 2000).

Boeing’s Shareholder Value

Despite relinquishing half of its market share to Airbus, between 2003 and 2018 Boeing’s stock price both outperformed its European competitor and significantly outperformed the S&P 500 (Refer to Figure 2 below). As of 7/3/19, Boeing CEO; Dennis Muilenburg, was credited with increasing market cap from $90bn to $243.9bn. Since he became CEO in 2015 shares had gained 210% (Siesluk, 2019). Most of the improvements were attributed to reducing costs (Siesluk, 2019), and minimising costs to maximise profits has been Boeing’s typical approach since the late 1990s (Irving, 2019).


Figure 2: Share price performance of Boeing and Airbus vs the S&P 500 (McBride, 2019)

March 10th 2019

Suddenly cracks started to appear, the house of Boeing was not all that it seemed. The product that made up 72% of Boeing’s 2018 aircraft production (Statista, 2019) was ruled as unsafe to fly. The 737 MAX was quickly grounded by airlines all across the world, and current predictions are that it will remain grounded until February 2020 (Finley, 2019). Boeing has set aside $5bn in compensation to cover the costs of these grounded aircraft (Isodore, 2019), which is more than the $2bn-$3bn cost to develop the entire aircraft (Ostrower, 2012). This event caused an immediate 18% drop in Boeing’s share price, and as of Q3 2019 the Boeing group’s top line was down 19% compared to the previous year. Boeing may now be “facing the worst crisis in its 103-year history” (Hemmerdinger et al., 2019).

Cause and Effect

There is strong evidence that by focusing only on shareholder value Boeing have mastered their own downfall. It is noteworthy that just one year after Boeing’s 1998 announcement that shareholder value is “the principle measure of our success” (Boeing, 1998), Airbus had its first year where it enjoyed more aircraft orders than Boeing (Spiegel, 2019). 20 years have passed since this watershed moment and looking at Boeing’s R&D investment over the last 10 years shows that they still haven’t been willing to invest to counter this now well-established rivalry. Boeing’s R&D spend as a percentage of sales has been less than half of it’s European rival since 2010 (Refer Figure 3 below).


Figure 3: R&D spend as percentage of group revenues for Boeing and Airbus (Statista, 2019)

Boeing’s lower R&D spend correlates when comparing the price and performance characteristics of the two organisations’ current single aisle aircraft. Even without the safety concerns surrounding the 737 MAX aircraft, for the same price you can purchase an Airbus A321 that can carry more passengers for a longer distance (Refer Figure 4 below). The 737 is the most popular aircraft in history; but chasing shareholder value has resulted in Boeing having an inferior product to its main rival in its most important market segment. Although being bridled with an inferior product is certainly problematic for Boeing, this is by far their only problem. As the next section illustrates, it is Boeing’s mismanagement of stakeholder relations that now needs fixing perhaps even more so than its aircraft.

Plane models

Figure 4: Boeing and Airbus’ current single aisle aircraft specifications (Cummins, 2019)

20 Years of Stakeholder Mismanagement

There are many aerospace protagonists that attribute the origins of Boeing’s current crisis to an event that occurred over 20 years ago; Boeing’s 1997 acquisition of McDonnell Douglas. The rationale behind the deal was sound; McDonnell Douglas was a specialist in military aircraft, Boeing was the commercial aircraft market leader. Combining the two organisations offered the corporation a capability to shift its operations to match the fluctuations in demand from one sector to the other, which tend to be counter cyclical. Additionally, Boeing had recently been shortlisted by the U.S government (at the expense of McDonnel Douglas) to provide their next generation military aircraft, McDonnel Douglas’ expertise with such products would assist Boeing’s aspirations to win this lucrative contract.

Another consideration was the low purchase price; McDonnel Douglas was struggling to remain solvent following the U.S government’s decision to not short list their proposal for their next generation aircraft. However, this is also the biggest point of contention for the commentators of the era. The fact that Boeing; a civil aircraft specialist, had been selected ahead of McDonnel Douglas to potentially supply a military aircraft indicated how just how much McDonnel Douglas had lost its way. This is even more pertinent when considering that the same commentators also attributed McDonnel Douglas’ decline to cost cutting and improving the bottom line at the expense of longevity. Thus, a business renowned for engineering excellence and courageous decision making (Boeing) was married to a business that was risk averse, focussed on operational efficiency and struggling to survive.

Ultimately, this marriage created a business that increasingly mirrored the McDonnel Douglas mantra “to maximize short-term shareholder value—at the expense of what’s good for nearly everyone but the shareholder” (Georgescu, 2019), culminating in the situation as described below from the perspective of Boeing’s relevant non-shareholder stakeholders.


“For many decades of Boeing’s history, most employees were immensely proud of where they worked” (Spiegel, 2019). If you consider that every commercial aircraft currently sold by Boeing, except the 787 models, was originally developed during Boeing’s ‘golden era’ of market domination, Boeing is still heavily reliant upon the historic achievements of its workforce during this period. However, this reliance on historic achievements is also what created the flawed 737 MAX aircraft. Perhaps more worryingly, a once celebrated working culture is now replaced by an environment where employees fear for their jobs if they raise concerns (Edmondson, 2019), these conditions are not conducive of innovation and creativity, at a time when Boeing needs it most.

The culture clash between Boeing’s traditions and those of McDonnell Douglas likely contributed to this change, as did the protracted conflict between Dennis Muilenburg’s predecessors; and Boeing’s unions (Spiegel, 2019). The Boeing union members “were fighting to save Boeing” (Useem, 2000), while the Boeing leadership moved the HQ out of the Boeing heartland of Seattle to Chicago, and half of the 787 production to North Carolina. North Carolina had no qualified mechanics and engineers in the region, but it also had the lowest union membership in the entire U.S.A (Spiegel, 2019).

Boeing used to count on its staff as a key organisational capability that offered it a strategic advantage. Much of Boeing’s brand identity came from the engineers within the organisation. Today Boeing is used as an example of what impact a toxic culture can have on a business (Edmondson, 2019).



There is an argument that the commercial aircraft sector is large enough that both Boeing and Airbus could happily operate alongside one another without hostilities, collaboration could in fact benefit both companies. However, when Airbus emerged Boeing instead opted to go to war with them, using pricing, complaints to the WTO and public shows of one upmanship to fight their battles (Spiegel, 2019). What Boeing failed to do however was invest heavily in its R&D so that its products were superior to its bitter rival’s. The result is an ultra-competitive environment where Boeing are relying upon power to coerce stakeholders, rather than product quality, in order to secure their market share.

This approach has backfired recently. Boeing attempted to prevent Bombardier from selling its new aircraft into the U.S market, seeking 300% import trade tariffs to be imposed against them for alleged dumping. This ended up pushing Bombardier into the arms of Airbus. Bombardier was likely to sell 300 of its new Aircraft, but now Airbus plans to sell 6,000 (The Economist, 2019). This action has also had a negative impact upon some key customer and government relationships, as covered below.



Considering Boeing’s original brave move into the jet airliner market, it is somewhat ironic that at least part of the reason for persisting with upgrading the venerable 737 rather than producing a new aircraft was from the insistence of its customers. Keeping with the 737 was preferred by customers as it negates pilot training costs. However, it was similar short-termist pandering to customers that got Boeing’s main competitor into trouble in the 1950’s and enabled Boeing to seize a near monopoly. History seems to be repeating itself, but this time to Boeing’s detriment.

A combination of Boeing’s 737 safety issues plus its actions against Bombardier means that it is now facing loss of sales from many key customers, as concerns for both Boeing’s products and behaviour have provoked worldwide negative reactions. This has contributed to Boeing receiving orders for only 170 aircraft in 2019 compared to 603 aircraft ordered from Airbus (Katz, 2019).


Boeing has publicly aligned itself with the Donald Trump administration, backing Trump’s ‘America first’ rhetoric, while also having him unveil their 787 Dreamliner. Not surprising when considering that Boeing has received $14bn in subsidies from the government over the last 20 years (Helmy, 2018), however being so publicly aligned to protectionist policies is also harmful for a company that relies on exports for 66% of its sales volume (Statista, 2019).

The U.S vs China trade war, combined with the Chinese airline Lion Air 737 MAX crash in 2018 have  placed a serious dent into new orders for Boeing in a market that accounted for 25% of its sales volume in 2018 (Statista, 2019). Conversely Chinese Airlines alone currently accounts for 50% of Airbus’ aircraft orders in 2019 (Adams, 2019). Additionally, Boeing has alienated the Canadian and British governments through its treatment of Bombardier, both of whom have vested interests in the company. This has resulted in Canada cancelling a $5bn order with Boeing for military aircraft, choosing instead to purchase older alternatives from the Australian government (Pugliese, 2018). Comments given in the same press conference from the Canadian prime minister; “We won’t do business with a company that’s busy trying to sue us and put our aerospace workers out of business” and the UK’s defence secretary:  This is not the behaviour we expect from Boeing, and it could indeed jeopardize our future relationship with them”(Aleem, 2017) shows their united dissatisfaction with Boeing.


As the 737 MAX saga continues to unravel, there are numerous reports that Boeing’s management were aware of the potential safety issues but failed to notify the Federal Aircraft Administration (FAA) as they were so desperate to get the upgraded aircraft onto the market. The integrity of the FAA is now being questioned along with that of Boeing. Regardless of blame, the FAA will be very keen to prevent any similar issues in the future, and thus it is unlikely Boeing will enjoy the freedom and trust that they have previously enjoyed (Reynolds, 2019).


Stakeholder management

Just as Boeing’s focus on shareholder value is starting to show serious flaws, the U.S’ business roundtable; an organisation that represents the leaders of the U.S’ largest businesses, has made a statement of intent to move away from shareholder primacy (Business Roundtable, 2019). This is a very different sentiment to the statement that it released in 1997: “The principle objective of a business enterprise is to generate economic returns to its owners.” (Crilly, 2019).

Boeing is well advised to follow suit, moving away from radical shareholder primacy approach and towards a stakeholder capitalism approach. Using the criteria shown in the stakeholder assessment model in Figure 5 below it is possible to assess the importance of each stakeholder, helping with prioritisation. A proposal for Boeing’s priorities and approach with regards to their stakeholders is given below.


Figure 5: Stakeholder attributes (Crilly, 2019)

Priority 1. Regulators. Power: High. Legitimacy: High. Urgency: High

Boeing’s number one priority is to restore trust in the certification authorities, without their co-operation they stand to lose 72% of their aircraft sales. This can only be done by being voluntarily transparent, which will require a measure of psychological safety provided to Boeing’s staff.


Priority 2. Suppliers. Power: High. Legitimacy: High. Urgency: High

Although Boeing are part of a duopoly in the aircraft market, aircraft production is limited by the availability of key components, such as engines and high-performance materials. This is a critical time for Boeing as they have had to lower their 737 production to 26% below forecasts (Youn and Kaji, 2019). If Boeing’s suppliers opt to re-channel deliveries to Airbus, then this will offer the European firm the opportunity to increase its production volume and thus market share. It is in the suppliers’ long-term interests that neither Boeing or Airbus gain enough market share to get monopolistic control of the market. Boeing need to use this to gain support from its suppliers during its current tough times.

Priority 3. Employees. Power: High. Legitimacy: High. Urgency: Medium

Boeing’s fall from innovation leader due to questionable integrity and product quality mirrors the worsening relationship between its leaders and employees. Aerospace engineers the world over still aspire to work in the U.S. (ECORYS, 2009). Boeing should take advantage of this, becoming an empowering place to work, and regaining the internal brand identity that previously brought success.


Priority 4. Competitors. Power: High. Legitimacy: High. Urgency: Medium

Airbus and Boeing would benefit from more collaboration rather than higher competition, and Boeing should be strong advocates of this, not least considering the imminent market entry of the Chinese and others. A good example to follow is the German automobile industry; participants have collaborated with one another to improve their capabilities, becoming stronger both together and in their own right.

Priority 5. Governments. Power: High. Legitimacy: High. Urgency: Low

A balance needs to be set by ensuring the U.S government is engaged enough to provide Boeing the support it needs, but without alienating foreign governments, and thus jeopardising exports. Boeing’s defence division may depend increasingly more upon exports for revenue, as the U.S government is moving away from the Boeing F-18 aircraft, replacing many with Lockheed Martin’s F-35.


Priority 6 Customers. Power: Medium. Legitimacy: High. Urgency: Low

In a market of low elasticity of supply and high demand, customers have little choice but to purchase from Boeing unless they choose to wait several years for an Airbus aircraft (Pfeifer and Spero, 2019). With this considered, Boeing need to recapture their visionary spirit with which they once transformed the aircraft industry, rather than cater to customers short term requirements. History has shown that airlines will ultimately pick superior performance and efficiency over short term convenience.


Priority 7 Shareholders. Power: High. Legitimacy: High. Urgency: High

Shareholder value is likely to be high on the Boeing management’s agenda, and it is also likely that the board are having to answer some very difficult questions asked of them. However, as the four largest shareholders sit upon the Boeing board (Maveric, 2019), they should use their influence to gain confidence from other shareholders, offering assurences that their long term interests are aligned. The key will be convincing investors that short-term pain may be needed for long term gains, but never in Boeing’s history has there been a stronger case for change. It is up to the board to sell how important rebuilding Boeing’s brand image and cultivating strong bonds with the other stakeholders will be for their recovery.


Boeing is facing many challenges. There is strong evidence that attributes these challenges to their change in philosophy over 20 years ago; away from excellent products, and more towards cutting costs and providing shareholder value. This philosophy change can in part be justified; Boeing have seen intensified competition in the years since, due to becoming one half of a fiercely contested duopoly. However, there is a difference between saving costs through operational excellence and gaining profits and enterprise value for shareholders at the expense of all else.

To recover from this crisis, Boeing will need to convince more than just the financial analysts that they are making meaningful changes. Once again, they will need to change their philosophy, this time to one that considers all stakeholders. Such changes will not be easy, and will not be quick, due to the time lag in product lifecycles it could once again be 20 years before these changes fully take effect.



Adams, C., 2019. AIRBUS INKS MULTIBILLION DOLLAR ORDER WITH CHINA [WWW Document]. Independent. URL (accessed 11.6.19).

Aleem, Z., 2017. The US just picked a nasty trade fight with Canada — and it’s likely to backfire [WWW Document]. Vox. URL (accessed 10.30.19).

Boeing, 1998. Boeing Adopts Measures for Attaining Increased Shareholder Value [WWW Document]. Boeing. URL (accessed 11.11.19).

Business Roundtable, 2019. Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans’ [WWW Document]. Business Roundtable. URL (accessed 11.6.19).

Crilly, D., 2019. Corporate Governance and Stakeholder Relations.

Cummins, N., 2019. The Boeing 797 Could Transform Low Cost Carriers In Ways The 787 Can’t [WWW Document]. Simple Flying. URL (accessed 10.30.19).

ECORYS, 2009. Competitiveness of the EU Aerospace Industry (No. Ares(2015)2205905-). European Commision.

Edmondson, A., 2019. Boeing and the Importance of Encouraging Employees to Speak Up. HBR.

Finley, M., 2019. Boeing 737 MAX Expected To Fly Again In Europe By Feb 2020 [WWW Document]. Simple Flying. URL,the%20air%20by%20February%202020. (accessed 11.5.19).

Georgescu, P., 2019. Boeing and Business Governance [WWW Document]. Forbes. URL (accessed 11.6.19).

Helmy, S., 2018. Airbus Bites Boeing By Advancing On Alabama A220 Assembly Line [WWW Document]. Simple Flying. URL (accessed 10.29.19).

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Kay, J., 2004. Obliquity.

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Pugliese, D., 2018. First used Australian fighter jets now flying in RCAF colours with more to come [WWW Document]. National Post. URL (accessed 10.30.19).

Reynolds, M., 2019. Boeing had too much sway vetting its own planes, FAA was warned [WWW Document]. Bloomberg. URL

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Digital transformation in the aerospace industry… Really??


A brief post to offer some musings to my comrades in the Aerospace industry. Hopefully you’ll find this helpful, and if not immediately helpful, then at least it will offer some food for thought…

marketing 101

One of my first subjects on the LBS Sloan programme has been ‘Leading the Market Driven Organisation’. I won’t shy away from the fact that I didn’t get much exposure to the principles of marketing while in the aerospace industry; most clients are either government or large multi-national organisations. You don’t often find people wanting to buy an aeroplane, or an aeroplane  component, because they have just seen an advert on SkySports, or because someone dropped a leaflet through their letterbox.

Considering the above, you can forgive my initial response to the recommendation to “transform my industry through digitisation”, as stated in my course text book. I’m sure many of you currently in the industry would agree; this sort of thing doesn’t apply to aerospace… Or does it…


…It was only a little later in the day when I started to think about pain points and problem areas when I had a Eureka! moment. For my last client, on my last project, by far the biggest pain point was managing suppliers and late delivery of purchase orders. Unfortunately there are suppliers out there who seem very intent on winning orders and making promises, but not so good at delivering parts. One particular supplier we used had promised some components within 10 weeks, but we were still pulling our hair out due to non-delivery way beyond this time.

In the business to consumer world there are simple tools available to prevent poor supplier performance. For individual consumers, consider the ratings systems put in place by organisations such as Amazon and Ebay. For suppliers offering loans and mortgages, consider credit rating platforms such as Experian and Noddle.

This is when the penny dropped. Why isn’t there a business to business rating system? Even better, a transparent tracking system that links to each business’ MRP system and shows what orders are overdue. If banks and financial institutions can do it with individuals’ bill payments for credit ratings, then it must be possible for other industries. This application would have a profound affect; as businesses that were unable to fulfill their orders as promised would not likely win future work. This would reward productive and well run organisations and encourage other businesses to follow suit. I predict that over time this system would improve productivity of the entire industry value chain…

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…After all, we can put man made objects into space, and fly objects around the globe heavier than  double-decker buses, with an unparalleled safety record. So  surely we can  create a simple system that protects buyers, and drives all suppliers to improve productivity?

This problem is crying out for a solution that could completely transform the aerospace industry; and through the simple use of tech that has been readily available in everyday life for over a decade. Maybe this is a business venture that I will explore once I am finished with my studies…


So thinking a little smaller and immediate, how can the ‘individual’ take advantage of this ‘problem’ right now? Well while the industry waits for an encompassing platform to arrive, there will be demand for small consultancy services that organisations can use to provide supplier due diligence prior to placing critical purchase orders. This process happens already, but it usually happens in-house and is focused on how solvent a supplier is – will they go bust before they produce my parts? We should also concentrate on how many of a supplier’s current orders with other clients are overdue – if they can’t fulfill current orders, then they will not likely fulfill ours either. The key to this challenge is where do you gain access to such information? The fact that sourcing this information is not easy means that organisations will be willing to pay for it.

Finally, a low hanging fruit to consider when you are writing proposals and responding to client’s request for quotes: If you are a well run productive business; why not place some data at the back of your next proposal that shows your historic delivery performance? I have never seen this in a bid for work from a supplier, yet when I am mid project with muck and bullets flying all around me, time is the most important consideration. Why not try this approach? If you win more work, feel free to buy me a beer!


The above is all a brief brain dump of my thoughts. I would be really happy to talk further on the topic, or discuss any similar ideas that you readers may have in relation to this. Do you think you could help make any of the above a reality? Then please drop me a message.

My time after Airbus Defense and Space: Aerospace!

Following on from my post earlier in the week, this post covers a brief run down of my thoughts and feelings of my time since I left the Space Industry and joined the world of short term contracting as a project manager within the similar but oh so different Aerospace Industry.


Although many of the engineering and manufacturing processes within the Space Industry are inherited from their lower flying cousins produced in the Aerospace industry, the business philosophies seem to differ significantly.  The Aerospace industry is in general much faster paced, there is a significantly more cut-throat mentality, and it contains many big egos (which belong to some very successful and effective personnel).

There also seems to be tangibly more chaos and fire fighting on most projects, staff turnover is higher (people float from company to company in search of better wage rates), and I have often witnessed many scenarios similar to children playing a football match – with everyone running around chasing the ball without much consideration for formation, or the ‘bigger plan’.


I would say personally that I learned a lot of good practices and engineering judgement within the Space Industry. Within the Aerospace Industry I have really learned about people management and the art of ‘getting things done’ amongst and despite the reigning chaos.

So what do I prefer? I will always have a special place in my heart for the Space industry, and unlike many people, the thought of producing aircraft doesn’t excite me that much. However, the buzz of having to work at 100 miles an hour, making sure that everyone is bearing up against the pressure to do what they need to do, healing rifts between egos, spinning plates while maintaining relationships with stakeholders from all angles, really is tough to beat.

As I don’t naturally have a very commanding presence, working with many big egos, and with people who have inherently more experience and knowledge of the products than myself, I have been forced to develop my soft skills in order to manage my teams. I am now more than ever a strong advocate for empowering the people that I work with wherever I can, I take the time to show appreciation (a very rare thing from my own personal experience) and give praise for achievement, and I try wherever possible treat people like people; they (mostly) have an uncanny knack of doing the same in return. If you can let people do what they are good at, and guide them through doing things in a certain order that makes logical sense and minimizes risk of having to scrap their work and start again, most people will be grateful to have trust and confidence invested in them.


The Aerospace industry certainly can be bad for your health; there are plenty of lost souls who have been completely consumed by their work to the detriment of their life as a whole, due to the demands it brings. But it does take you on one hell of a ride. I am unsure that I would like to commit to such a skewed work life balance for my whole career, but these last 7 years have been an incredible journey and learning curve that will stay with me forever.

It has allowed me to work in cities such as Manila and Madrid, simultaneously manage teams based in Europe, North America, and the Far East. It also gives me several ‘FFS’ moments each and every day I spend within it, often leaving me baffled as to how things so seemingly simple can go so horribly wrong. But this harsh mistress has kept me coming back for more.

My time at Airbus Defense and Space

I bring my post hiatus to a close with a brief summary of my career to date, starting with my extended (14 year) apprenticeship Airbus Defense and Space.


Although I have submitted my CV as part of my admissions process, I am expecting to answer questions on my career to date, and my thoughts and feelings on my professional life so far. This post acts as a medium to commit my thoughts to print in order to help me articulate them when required during my interview at the end of this week.

I joined what was then Matra Marconi Space, soon to be Astrium, and is now Airbus Defense and Space, at the ripe old age of 18 in 1997. To this day I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to serve my 14 years at this company; I learned so much, met some cherished friends and colleagues who I still hold dear to me now, and most importantly from a professional perspective I was immersed into a very well run company that taught me many of the values and robust processes that I have taken with me throughout the rest of my career.

Immediately at interview stage I was offered the opportunity to study for a BEng degree part time, fully funded by the company, an opportunity beyond my wildest expectations, I would not have had the capital to afford to study otherwise, and has directly contributed to where I am today. I could not imagine where I would be now if this opportunity hadn’t have revealed itself to me.

In addition to this, I was exposed to the fast-paced culture change that was underway at that time within the organisation, as I describe at the end of my earlier post Notable Leaders #1: My early years. Looking back, many of the nuances and philosophies I learned I may have taken for granted at the time, it was not until later in life that I fully appreciated the value of what I was taught.

When considering the above, it doesn’t even factor in that it also enabled me to work within the fascinating space industry; something that in my young ignorance I didn’t even know existed within the U.K. I was a keen want-to-be astronomer as a child, and to fall into this company almost by accident was quite literally a dream come true.


Throughout my time there I was given ample opportunities to change career within the organisation, something that contributed to me spending such a long period of my professional life there. I started within the manufacturing department, learned many of the new age philosophies introduced by companies such as Toyota that are now considered mandatory for any world class manufacturing facility. I then moved into operations and project management, before moving into mechanical engineering where I spent most of my time; working on mind boggling prototypes such as space telescopes and vehicles that are destined to orbit around the planet Mercury.

A few key take aways for me:

Innovation and Product development

Because the cost of failure in space is so severe, launch costs plus the almost impossibility of repair in service (the Hubble Telescope is one notable exception), the cost of qualifying new materials and processes is extremely high. I initially found this concept a little frustrating; to be working on the frontier of technical possibilities without introducing new technologies seems a bit of a paradox. What it breeds however is a very innovative use of tried and tested technologies in new ways – this in itself is innovative. A philosophy of ‘how can we use what we already know to solve a completely new problem’ is a valuable skill to have. It encourages a resourcefulness, encourages you to keep things simple – sexy isn’t always the best, practical solutions are engineering 101.

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Creating a social and pleasant working environment

This was approach was apparent across all sites and contributed to me making so many cherished acquaintances. It was especially apparent at the French sites that I visited. A philosophy of look after your staff, make them feel like they are members of a social club rather than an organisation has stuck with me. The exceptional canteen facilities, a beautiful working environment, modern working hours with flexible working, and a multitude of extra curricular activities gives staff a sense of pride and belonging which in turn cultivates a family atmosphere. I see parallels here with the likes of Google who are championing modern management philosophies, and such ‘soft’ benefits directly contribute to operational excellence.

Robust processes, and championing doing things right first time

This one may seem obvious but  It wasn’t until I left the organisation that I realised how well run this company manages to efficiently produce prototypes without (too much!) fuss. This is enabled by having very robust processes and practices, from configuration control, to risk management, to boring but important cost management techniques. People are encouraged to take the time to do things properly, this may be a luxury offered to few industries other than the space industry, but from my experience since I have moved on,; taking this approach almost always saves time in the long run – and it also breeds a technical pride from team members and employees.

So thanks to you Airbus Space, you were a charm!

Creating a Strategy vs Implementing a Strategy (From the eyes of an implementer)

What is the difference difference between implementing a strategy, and formulating a strategy?


In very general terms, let’s say that a strategy is to get from A to B. In order to implement this strategy, the implementer will need to create a vehicle to get there, and then guide that vehicle to the destination.

The creators of the strategy will also provide the framework, which in this case would be the road. For the purposes of this example, let’s say that the road in question is Holloway Road, in North London (Boris Johnson knows it well as he lives a stone’s throw from it). The strategy in this instance is to get from Highbury Corner, at the bottom end of the road, to a social event in Archway, at the top end of the road.

The strategists have a lot invested in this social event, and they have instructed several other implementers to create vehicles to arrive at the same destination, all of which is part of a bigger plan.

As one of these implementers, you start in high spirits, the start of the journey is near a park; Highbury Fields. It is here that you gather your team together, have a nice barbecue, and start to run over the plan:

  • Each of the team members brings a unique component to the vehicle, be it a wheel, a gear box, or part of the engine. Together you all create the whole vehicle.
  • The plan is to arrive at the destination before 18:30, this is when the function starts. It is important that no-one is late, especially your team, as their presence at the function is critical for it’s success.
  • Each of the vehicle’s components (or team member) will need fuel to run. Unlike a real life vehicle, the fuel burn is constant, irrelevant to distance traveled / progress made.
  • There are several fuel stations along the road, the strategists have given enough fuel (plus a small reserve) to get to the next fuel station. They will assess our progress made at each fuel station, and if the vehicle is on track, they will sanction enough fuel to get to the next station, this process will continue until either the journey is completed, or terminated prior to completion.


With the above in mind, the team looks over the plan. This should be straight forward, a nine minute journey according to Google Maps. If we leave an hour before we need to arrive then we will have plenty of time. It’s likely that we’ll even have enough time to grab some refreshments somewhere nice nearby before the event starts. Immediately the team start to congratulate themselves and one another on pretty much having already implemented the strategy. Unfortunately however, everyone missed one key risk that is in hindsight is obvious, but it wasn’t spotted until it was too late.


Two minutes into the journey, already it is clear that this is going to be a lot more difficult than imagined. The team are all travelling along Holloway Road as planned, trouble is so are 60,000 other people. Arsenal Football Club have just finished playing at home and tens of thousands of people, and their vehicles, are between your vehicle and your end goal.

Immediately the atmosphere in the vehicle is a lot more hostile than it was just a few minutes before. Several of the team members declare that there is no hope of even making it to the top of Holloway Road. They think the best idea is to leave this vehicle, and join another one going elsewhere; somewhere that is actually achievable of being reached.

This isn’t good news; if these team members leave they will take their car components with them. If they leave and take wheels, or a gearbox, or similar, it is going to make it even harder for your vehicle to reach it’s intended destination.

What is really needed is a few additional car components to offset the delay, but a quick phone call to the strategists confirms that this is not possible. In fact, with the limited fuel on board, and lack of progress, the only way to make it to the first fuel station is by shedding some of the car components.


Five minutes into the journey and the vehicle is now a three-wheeler, and several other car components are also considering leaving, or are at least severely shaken loose by the fact we have been forced to down-size before the journey has barely started.

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing dialogue between you and the strategists. They are not happy with the progress made. You try and explain that by setting a strategy to travel up Holloway Road on a Saturday afternoon, achieving success was always going to be tough… They acknowledge this, but the reason that they picked you as the driver was because they are confident you can overcome small set backs such as these.

So, no point crying over matters now out of your control, time to concentrate on what you can actually affect. You manage to talk the team round, and thankfully they all agree to stay and continue on the journey. You make it together to the first fuel station, a damned fine achievement in itself. You congratulate everyone, and you all take a quick comfort break before continuing onward.

The strategists are not happy however; you have made it to the first fuel station but almost all of the reserve fuel has been used up, and your projected arrival time is now significantly later than planned. ‘If there are any further delays to your journey, it wont be worth you turning up, we will cancel your invite’. Of course you can’t tell your team this – or they will all leave now and there will be no hope of achieving the goal. Best to keep the morale high within the vehicle by filtering these communications; a happy vehicle is a faster and more efficient vehicle after all.. but a happy vehicle usually likes transparency. What should you do in this situation?

A little further along Holloway Road your vehicle encounters another problem; the road has been closed. Closed! Again you are on the phone to the strategists. This time they apologise. The good news is you will receive a little more fuel than originally planned to help cover the additional distance, the bad news is that you and your team now have to build a new road to circumnavigate the problem. The team are not happy, this whole idea now seems a shambles. You keep most of them onside – ‘building a new road is fun! It is why you decided to do this type of work in the first place, remember?’ Some of them however don’t buy it.

20 minutes later, the vehicle has made it around the blockage and is back onto Holloway Road. Trouble is that two team members have decided to leave, and they have taken the rear wheels with them. The remainder of the team are now in a sorry state of a vehicle with no back wheels, slowly dragging itself up the street.

You can soon fix this by recruiting two new back wheels, the job market is booming at the moment, and you can see many people walking along the pavement next to the road. You just need to convince two suitable pedestrians to join your vehicle and your team’s adventure…

It’s not that simple though, what stands in your way this time is in fact another strategy; otherwise known as the HR recruitment policy, or in this instance, the bus lane. The time is now 18:45, your vehicle is not allowed to cross over into the bus lane, and thus get access to the potential rear wheels walking by the side of the road. This time you’re on the phone to HR (TFL): ‘You’ll have to wait until 19:00 when the bus lanes open to all traffic, you have to consider all other users of the road as well as yourself’. ‘But my vehicle is almost stationary in the middle of the road! This is no good for any road users!’

Much to your frustration your calls make no difference, you try and escalate, but it seems no one can help, not even the strategists.

Meanwhile, the strategists are back on the phone: ‘There are a lot of people here very concerned about your arrival time’. You mention that you currently only have one wheel, and they reconfirm that they can’t do much to help here. They also remind you that they are again considering cancelling your invite. You tell them you’re only ten minutes away once you get two new wheels (which will be shortly after 19:00). They no longer believe this forecast. Now your credibility and integrity is starting to be questioned. ‘You said ten minutes some time ago, why should we believe you now?’.

Despite this, you eventually find two replacements for the missing rear wheels, they add a much needed fresh blood and enthusiasm to a now bruised and battered team.

three wheel tank

You arrive at the destination just a little more that ten minutes later. There is a muted welcome upon your arrival. You thank your team, have your own private little celebration, and bid them good luck for the future. You then visit the strategists.

‘Despite the difficulties you encountered on the last, we have decided to offer you the opportunity to be the driver on our new journey’. ‘But I’ve only just got here’. ‘Yes, true, but there are people who want to leave, can you assemble a vehicle to take them home?’ You ask to take a time out, ‘I need to make a quick phone call’.

The phone rings. You start the conversation; ‘Oh hi there, Is this the London Business School?’. ‘Yes it is, how can we help?’. ‘Well, I know a bit about driving, I wondered if you could teach me some more about building roads?…’

Leadership and the cosmos

This is an unplanned post, but I cultivated some thoughts on the way home from work and decided to capture them on paper (or tablet) before they disappeared.

science delusion

This post is wholly inspired by Rupert Sheldrake, as it has come about from reading his book: The Science Delusion. For an intro into the content of this book (which I admit is pretty radical – but mind blowing all the same), refer to a great article in the Guardian from 2012.

In this book, among other things, Rupert describes invisible forces that are formed through the development of habits, which over time become instinct, and effectively are hardwired into nature. Some useful examples:

  • A sunflower moving itself to face sunlight.
  • A male dog straining at the leash to get near a female dog that it senses to be on heat.
  • A newborn child being drawn to his or her mother’s bosom.

All of the above are effectively urges that force physical movement, which have developed or evolved over time.


Now, consider gravity…

So, could gravity be a force exerted due to an instinctive urge, but at an atomic level?Within Rupert’s book he explains that scientific analysis indicates that gravity, contrary to popular belief, isn’t constant; it fluctuates over time.

A counter argument to gravity having evolved into a force could be; each of the urges developed in the three above examples have evolved because the subject has learned that they tangibly benefit from them – they lead to replenishment, and pro-creation.

But this counter argument actually adds weight to the original premise: Shortly after The Big Bang, it’s likely most atoms were flying around the universe alone. Over time they found other atoms, eventually these atoms joined together and interacted with one another to create organisms, and you all know the rest of the story…


So to that end, without gravity, life wouldn’t exist. Nor would the Earth, nor would the Sun, nor would our galaxy, and so on and so forth. So from this view point, take a moment to Imagine life without gravity, it’s not possible is it?

So is gravity in fact one of the oldest instinctive forces in the universe? Has it developed over billions of years, and is now hardwired into any ‘thing’ that has an atomic mass? By joining together, the atoms have created life far more complex and diverse than the sum of their parts, and have learned instinctively that they are better together.

Just a thought…

So how does all this apply to leadership???

Damned good question, but if the theory above holds… by giving a team a common purpose that bonds them together, their purpose too will eventually become an instinctive urge, a force of nature. Of course we all know that a strong team is more effective than the sum of its parts, but this theory also suggests that over time, nature will bond the team and its purpose together with an invisible and irresistible force. Extrapolating this forwards, eventually due to the team’s purpose, attaining the sought after goals will happen as easy as rolling down a hill. Well, if single atoms can do it…

The trick is for a ‘leader’ to manage empower the team to enable this in less than the several billion years it may have taken gravity.

Have a happy Easter guys!!

For more information on Rupert’s work, visit his website:

Or, buy one of his books: Sheldrake books on Amazon

Or watch what he has to say on his 2013 TED Talk:


My thoughts on the U.K. Aerospace Industry

This is the first post in what will be a series of brain dumps of my take on various topics that may be brought up at my pending interview for the Sloan MSc.

a350 wingtip.jpg

The goal of these to compile a thought bank of relative items in a nice orderly fashion that will act as a quick reference guide during preparation. If you are going through a similar process, then hopefully they will act as a prompt, or help you in your preparations. Failing that, I hope that you simply find them informative, enlightening, or just simply entertaining. I also encourage you to add your thoughts on the issues, hopefully bringing some interactive discussion into the mix.

A350-1000 MSN059 AND MSN065 TRANSFER-062

The first post is my response to one of the essay questions I submitted as part of my application. The questions was:

What do you see as the key issues for the next 5 years in your sector and/or region?

To which I answered (in no more than 300 words):

Productivity within UK manufacturing is 18%. lower when compared to the average of the other 6 members of the G7 group. Productivity is linked to capital investment, currently within the UK investment is lower in value than depreciation of existing capital. Foreign investment has historically had a positive impact on productivity, but global trends show increasing shares of investment streaming into developing economies.

More specifically within the aerospace sector, as of Q4 2017, 90% of sales were exported from the UK. Therefore, the protectionist stance being taken by the USA, and the uncertain trade terms of a future Brexit are both potential threats. There is also a trend reversal of OEMs now expanding operations downstream meaning less demand for products from lower tier suppliers.

As globalisation continues, the barriers to entry into the aerospace sector enjoyed by the UK and other developed economies, are disappearing. This is evidenced with the emergence of Chinese aircraft manufacture by Comac, and large swathes of engineering activities being outsourced to low-cost off-shore consultancies such as TCS and HCL in India. This combined with a lack of new aircraft introduction in recent years from the West means there is a risk of being unable retain key engineering talent.

To help counter the above, many UK Aerospace firms will need to embrace organisation and cultural change to continue to compete globally; moving away from the historic hierarchical management model consisting of a large uneducated work force, towards flatter more empowering structures that maximise value from a more diverse and educated workforce.

From a technology standpoint, many traditional materials and processes are now being rapidly replaced. Development of composite laminate structures, digital manufacturing, and even electric propulsion are bringing opportunities for significant product development, harnessing their use will be a critical factor in long term growth within the aerospace sector.

I’d be very grateful to hear your thoughts on the above…

Notable Leaders from my early years

This is the first post in what will be a mini series where I will examine notable leaders, the effect that they have had on me personally, and any stand out characteristics they may have. These posts will also act as a tool in gathering my thoughts in preparation for my pending Sloan MSc interview.


The first of these posts will concentrate on a few people that I have met personally during the first 18 years on this planet..

Please note that I will not mention any names of particular people in this post, but I don’t think this is important for the purposes of the post.

My Parents

For most of us, the first leaders that we are likely to encounter in our lives are one or more of our parents. It is with these people that we share are very first life experiences, and likely our first memories. These people may not be natural leaders, but will none-the-less guide us through many of our formative years.

When I stop and think about the leadership given to me by my parents, it is hard not to feel very grateful. The stand out things for me is that they always encouraged me to express myself, be this in times of joy, or in times of sorrow (or tantrums!). This is despite the fact I was one of five offspring; meaning that our household was very often very loud and chaotic, great for us children but probably very tiring and stressful for them.

The other thing that I now appreciate perhaps more than most things is that although they were caring and supportive, they never pushed any expectations onto me. It was clear from a young age that whatever I chose to do, they would be happy, as it would be what I chose. I’ve learned the hard way on many occasions, but I am very grateful that they have let me become myself; with support at the right times, but minimal intervention.

School Teachers (Well, some of them!)

There is perhaps a handful of teachers from possibly hundreds that I encountered that really standout as having an impact on me. Interestingly, almost all of them were teachers that I initially feared prior to being placed into their class – perhaps through their reputation, or from what I had observed from afar. I’m not sure if anyone else has had this same experience?

The first stand out thing for me is that each of them treated myself and other pupils as equals; they set clear boundaries and expectations, and certainly didn’t take any nonsense from the pupils, but also treated us with the respect of being a fellow adult (every child believes that they are really a grown up, right?).

The second characteristic was their ability to capture and drive our imagination, perhaps through interactive discussions, or their passion for what they taught. Having a good teacher will very much enhance not only your learning experience, but push your interest in what they teach.

I think that these rules also apply to business leaders; to be effective I think you really need to be able to connect with everyone who you are working with. If you are stand-offish, and don’t make the time to get to know your team, why should they make the time to work with you towards your goals? If you can do this while also creating an environment where people believe in what you are all working towards, then you will not be far away from having a good crack at what you need to achieve.

My first boss

My first boss at my first professional job was no ordinary boss. Having cut his teeth in his native South Korea, he was brought in to work for what was then the Space Industry arm of British Aerospace (known as Matra Marconi Space). His primary objective was to smash the old culture within the company, and introduce everyone (whether they liked it or not), to the modern era manufacturing philosophies that had proven to be so successful at companies such as Toyota and Samsung.


Prior to his arrival at BAE, it was a typical traditional established British manufacturing plant of that era, it was dark and dreary, everyone sat isolated in their own private offices. Spools and spools of paper littered desk spaces, and the factory floor was littered with unidentified empty boxes, work in progress, and anything else that was simply just left around.

He immediately took everyone out of their offices and threw them into one large open plan area, including himself. This concept is now very popular in today’s offices, but wasn’t so much then. He also enforced a paperless office policy, and any time you were not at your desk its work surface needed to be completely clear. Again this was not very popular with the staff!

kanban 2

But what he really introduced was a different mindset to everyone that worked there. He made everything visible – all operations and key processes and their status were now clearly displayed on walls around the office and the factory floor. Everyone had their own responsibilities of updating certain areas. Then any meetings were held around these visual displays – so that progress (or lack of) was updated there and then. This mindset was a big hurdle to overcome, as most people felt exposed having their key characteristics and performance up for all to see. But as time moved on people warmed to the practices – and it in fact helped reduce any blame culture as everyone was able to pitch in their efforts where it would really make a difference.

The factory floor was no different – he introduced a zero tolerance for anything that didn’t belong. Everything had a specific place – be it a hand tool or a parked forklift truck. He quite rightly argued that a clean and clear working environment will bread higher quality workmanship. Not only that, but with everything set in its right place, it was again very easy to see how work was progressing (or not) through the production area.


He has long since moved on from what is now Airbus Defense and Space, but almost 20 years after he left, his legacy still lives on. The practices that he introduced back then are still in use today – desks are still left paperless, and everyone’s skeletons are out of the closet clearly displayed on the walls for all to see.

My working relationship with him was certainly not one of the closest I have had with a manager – it mainly involved him barking information at me with a barely comprehensible thick Korean accent, or me watching on in bewilderment as he demanded that a particular work area was immediately modified to his exact requirements. But as my first exposure to a long career in manufacturing and engineering it was invaluable.

I learned to ALWAYS question, never accept the status quo just because it is the status quo, and that the two biggest cardinal sins are to say ‘We’ve always done it like that, it must be ok’ or even worse: ‘But that’s not my job!’

He taught us that the British in general (and yes I agree it is dangerous to generalise) are fantastically innovative when they have to react to things, but very poor at being pro-active. He swept aside any comfort blanket or pretense that what you were doing was good enough simply because it involved established processes.

Even to this day I see many manufacturing businesses still haven’t fully come out of the old British model, and I am very grateful that I was shown the light of what change can do before I had a chance to even save my first Excel spreadsheet.

A good quote to summarise the message he gave is is from a piece of music composed by a DJ called Mr Scruff:

You’ve got to keep moving boy, or you’ll be left behind

Why LBS? Why the Sloan MSc?


As with many people, my interest in the Sloan MSc started from wanting to immerse myself in an environment of full time education to help me enrich my skill set and ultimately enhance my career opportunities.

My first investigations were made into several high profile MBA programmes in the U.K and Europe, with particular interest in the offerings from Cambridge Judge, Cranfield and INSEAD. However, I quickly discovered that my experience and profile was not perfectly suited to such courses. Full time MBA programmes are increasingly tailored to those with significantly less experience than myself. I was hesitant to commit to such a level of time and resources when I was such an outlier in terms of age and experience. I am sure that any of the above mentioned courses would be a valuable experience, but with the courses targeting a much younger market, would these be the ideal option?

I discovered the Sloan MSc at one particular MBA fair in central London; where the LBS representative informed me of its existence. Since this point, I have been particularly taken by the time and support offered by the Sloan MSc admissions team, as well as the exciting course format and content:

I submitted my CV to the admissions team for review, and almost immediately had an email response from Arione McQueenie, the recruitment manager, confirming my likely suitability. She encouraged me not only to apply, but also to come onto the LBS site, meet the admissions team, receive a guided tour of the campus, and discuss any immediate questions that I had. Arione then put me in contact with one of LBS’ careers coaches who discussed my aspirations and those of other candidates that she had worked with. This immediately drew me to the course and LBS as a place to study.

Since this first encounter with the LBS staff I have visited the LBS campus for various open events, from informal meet and greets of existing and past students, to a  very enlightening example lecture held by the former dean. All of these experiences combined in forming my journey to where I am today; having just finished my application to join the January 2019 class.

Discussions with existing students confirmed my hopes that the majority of the class members were in the same position as myself in wanting to change role or industry, and that this is what the course specialises in. I was equally encouraged by the time that existing students and alumni took to get to know me, and discuss any particular areas that I sought more information. If my application is successful, I already have plans to meet some of the alumni prior to the course so to gain the inside track on useful information to help prepare me for the challenges ahead.

I would encourage anyone who is considering this course to make contact with the Recruitment team as I did back in Spring of 2017.

An ode to David..

  1. “The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.”

[David Bowie]

This may seem a very tenuous link, but on visiting LBS in the summer of 2017 for a meeting with the Sloan recruitment manager, I was struck by the cover on the latest London Business School Review periodical that was on display in the reception area:


I am sure I am not alone when I say that I feel a spiritual link to our David, and after he passed away on my birthday in 2016, this link became tangibly  more prominent in my thinking. While sat in the LBS reception, and asking myself if this journey was the right one for me, to look up and see his face looking down on me gave a perhaps irrational but very powerful and profound answer to my question; be brave, dare to do, be who you strive to be.

To that end, I feel it is only just that I attribute at least a little credit of my current journey to the great but humble man himself. Below are a few quotes by David and others on David that I feel are particularly poignant.

“As an adolescent, I was painfully shy, withdrawn. I didn’t really have the nerve to sing my songs onstage and nobody else was doing them. I decided to do them in disguise so that I didn’t have to actually go through the humiliation of going onstage and being myself. “

[David Bowie]

“I must say, the message he gave to my generation was very important … it was basically – be strong enough to be yourself. That is a very strong message and very important for my generation.”

[Arsene Wenger]



“If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

[Dean Podesta (@JeSuisDean)]

I will end this post with a link to my favourite Bowie performance below, and by simply stating; If David can do it, then so can you!


Be strong, be bold, be yourself.