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..

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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).

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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).

R&D

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.

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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.

Employees

“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).

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Competition

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.

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Customers

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).

Governments

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.

Regulatory

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).

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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.

Framework

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

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References

Adams, C., 2019. AIRBUS INKS MULTIBILLION DOLLAR ORDER WITH CHINA [WWW Document]. Independent. URL https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/airbus-aircraft-boeing-china-chinese-airlines-737-max-a8840096.html (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 https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/27/16373156/boeing-tariff-bombardier-canada (accessed 10.30.19).

Boeing, 1998. Boeing Adopts Measures for Attaining Increased Shareholder Value [WWW Document]. Boeing. URL https://boeing.mediaroom.com/1998-07-23-Boeing-Adopts-Measures-for-Attaining-Increased-Shareholder-Value (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 https://www.businessroundtable.org/business-roundtable-redefines-the-purpose-of-a-corporation-to-promote-an-economy-that-serves-all-americans (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 https://simpleflying.com/boeing-797-low-cost-travel/ (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 https://simpleflying.com/boeing-737-max-expected-to-fly-again-in-europe-by-feb-2020/#:~:text=Boeings%20grounded%20737%20MAX%20is,the%20air%20by%20February%202020. (accessed 11.5.19).

Georgescu, P., 2019. Boeing and Business Governance [WWW Document]. Forbes. URL https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergeorgescu/2019/04/17/boeing-and-business-governance/#3e17f2977d98 (accessed 11.6.19).

Helmy, S., 2018. Airbus Bites Boeing By Advancing On Alabama A220 Assembly Line [WWW Document]. Simple Flying. URL https://simpleflying.com/airbus-bites-boeing-by-advancing-on-alabama-a220-assembly-line/ (accessed 10.29.19).

Hemmerdinger, J., Wolfsteller, P., Reim, G., 2019. Why Boeing faces its worst crisis in its 103 year history [WWW Document]. Flight Global. URL https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/analysis-why-boeing-faces-worst-crisis-in-its-his-461748/ (accessed 11.5.19).

Irving, C., 2019. How Boeing’s Bean-Counters Courted the 737 MAX Disaster [WWW Document]. The Daily Beast. URL https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-boeing-bean-counters-courted-the-737-max-disaster (accessed 11.6.19).

Isodore, C., 2019. 737 Max grounding will cost American and Southwest Airlines more than $1 billion [WWW Document]. CNN. URL https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/24/business/american-airlines-southwest-boeing-737-max-costs/index.html#:~:text=New%20York%20(CNN%20Business)%20The,through%20the%20end%20of%20September. (accessed 11.5.19).

Katz, B., 2019. Airbus Pulls Far Ahead of Boeing in New Jet Orders, Deliveries [WWW Document]. Wall Street Journal. URL https://www.wsj.com/articles/airbus-pulls-far-ahead-of-boeing-in-new-jet-orders-deliveries-11572369091 (accessed 11.6.19).

Kay, J., 2004. Obliquity.

Leonard, J., n.d. Overwhelmed by Success: What Killed Douglas Aircraft. Haas School of Business.

Maveric, J.B., 2019. The Top 4 Boeing Shareholders [WWW Document]. Investopedia. URL https://www.investopedia.com/articles/insights/052116/top-3-boeing-shareholders-ba.asp (accessed 11.6.19).

McBride, S., 2019. How We’ll “Get Rich Slowly” from the China Trade War [WWW Document]. Risk Hedge. URL https://www.riskhedge.com/post/how-well-get-rich-slowly-china-trade-war (accessed 11.4.19).

Ostrower, J., 2012. Boeing Disputes 737 MAX Cost Estimates [WWW Document]. FlightGlobal. URL https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/boeing-disputes-737-max-development-cost-report-367504/ (accessed 11.5.19).

Pfeifer, S., Spero, J., 2019. Airbus cannot build fast enough to replace Boeing’s 737 Max [WWW Document]. Financial Times. URL https://www.ft.com/content/a495bc06-49a6-11e9-bbc9-6917dce3dc62 (accessed 11.6.19).

Pugliese, D., 2018. First used Australian fighter jets now flying in RCAF colours with more to come [WWW Document]. National Post. URL https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/first-used-australian-fighter-jets-now-flying-in-canadian-colours-plans-underway-to-extend-jet-fleet-to-2032 (accessed 10.30.19).

Reynolds, M., 2019. Boeing had too much sway vetting its own planes, FAA was warned [WWW Document]. Bloomberg. URL https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-boeing-faa-warnings-20190317-story.html16/11/19

Siesluk, K., 2019. We Examine Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s Strategy For Improving Profitability [WWW Document]. Simple Flying. URL https://simpleflying.com/we-examine-boeing-ceo-dennis-muilenburgs-strategy-for-improving-profitability/ (accessed 10.29.19).

Spiegel, 2019. Boeing’s Crashes Expose Systemic Failings [WWW Document]. Spiegel. URL https://www.spiegel.de/international/business/737-max-boeing-s-crashes-expose-systemic-failings-a-1282869-2.html (accessed 11.6.19).

Statista, 2019. Airbus and Boeing Dossier (Dossier No. did-9503-1). Statista.

The Economist, 2019. Why Airbus’s tie-up with Bombardier is so damaging for Boeing [WWW Document]. The Economist. URL https://www.economist.com/business/2017/10/19/why-airbuss-tie-up-with-bombardier-is-so-damaging-for-boeing (accessed 11.6.19).

Thomson Reuters, 2012. Airbus market share pitted against Boeing [WWW Document]. Thomson Reuters. URL https://blogs.thomsonreuters.com/answerson/airbus-market-share-comparison-boeing/ (accessed 10.30.19).

Useem, J., 2000. Boeing VS. Boeing America’s export champion is going head-to-head with a company even tougher than Airbus: itself. Fortune.

Youn, S., Kaji, M., 2019. Boeing may halt 737 MAX production if planes stay grounded through 2019 [WWW Document]. ABC News. URL https://abcnews.go.com/Business/boeing-halt-737-max-production-planes-stay-grounded/story?id=64536463#:~:targetText=Boeing%20may%20halt%20737%20MAX%20production%20if%20planes%20stay%20grounded%20through%202019,-By&targetText=Aerospace%20company%20Boeing%20has%20not,CEO%20Dennis%20Muilenburg%20said%20Wednesday. (accessed 11.7.19).

 

eVTOL taxis: The tight-rope walk of trade-offs to reach commercial success

This is my 4th post covering the exciting world of eVTOL Urban Mobility and its emergence as a viable transport option. Here I cover various trade-offs that must be considered by the 170 or so companies world wide that are currently developing such vehicles…

Evening clouds above

One of the most exciting elements of the emerging eVTOL taxi industry is just how diverse the designs and concepts are showing up to be. The use cases that they are intending to serve have up until very recently been technically unfeasible, and with no successful baselines to refer back to, creativity and experimentation rule the day. You would expect that over time designs will become more and more homogeneous, as has happened with the aerospace and automotive industries. However, until then, we have many years of varying designs to look forward to as many organisations seek to find the magic formula to ensure that they are more effective than their competitors.

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Unfortunately, as with everything in life, an optimal design will come from effectively balancing between competing requirements, you can’t have everything. Below I explore some of the more pertinent of these necessary trade-offs.

Take-Off Efficiency Vs Horizontal Flight Efficiency

On the one extreme you have a design similar to a helicopter, with vertical facing rotors, this concept is very efficient at providing vertical lift, and hovering in one position. However, when it comes to flying in a horizontal direction, this design is very inefficient.

On the other extreme you have a fixed wing design, similar to a Harrier Jump Jet, this is very maneuverable and efficient when in forward flight, but takes a lot of skill and energy to enable vertical take-off. Not to mention produces a lot of noise during this process, as shown in the video below:

Although developments in electrical propulsion systems mean that more advanced concepts can be used to power this next generation of vehicles, thus leading to quieter and more energy efficient solutions. The vertical vs horizontal trade-off is unavoidable. Inherently, solutions optimised for vertical lift will be more suited to shorter journeys and more frequent landings, but will tend to be more noisy and slower in horizontal flight. Those designs optimised for horizontal fight will tend to have noisier and more energy intensive take-offs. According to Uber’s elevate white paper: Uber Elevate, an eVTOL vehicle can expect to use the same amount of energy to take-off and land as it would need to travel horizontally for 50 miles.

rotor fixed wing

Performance & Efficiency VS Ease of Maintenance and Certification

One way of countering the vertical vs horizontal trade-off is to design a vehicle with propulsion systems that rotate into optimal positions for both modes of flight (see example above). Several eVTOL developers have opted for variations of this solution. The draw back of this approach is that with significantly more moving parts and mechanisms to control, there are a lot more things that can go wrong. This will mean increased frequency of scheduled maintenance as well as the need for more replacement parts. This also means that the vehicles will be more complex and expensive to pass through certification. Estimates can be taken from the aerospace industry, but judging by the variations in designs it is not yet obvious where the sweet spot is in terms of efficiency of flight operations vs cost of maintenance and certification.

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Battery Service Life vs Battery Weight & Logistics

Lithium Ion Batteries are happiest when 50% charged, and least happiest when 100% or 0% charged. In general the more that they are subjected to 100% or 0% charge the quicker they will degrade and need to be replaced. Volocopter estimates that the battery will consist of up to 75% an eVTOL vehicle’s operating costs. Most appliances (including Tesla’s vehicles) get around this by not allowing you to charge up to 100%, or run down to 0%, but this means your battery capacity needs to be bigger than what is actually accessible. As batteries tend to be heavy, this becomes an issue in vehicles that need to escape the Earth’s gravity. Thus battery size and capacity needs to be carefully matched against likely journey times.

There is an added complication in that fast charging these batteries also causes them to degrade more quickly. An option can be to simply swap out batteries at service stations, and then charge the spares at a slower rate. This means that more batteries need to be held in inventory, complex mechanisms and fastenings need to be utilised to enable them to be switched, and inspection and certification requirements will become more complex.

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Carrying Capacity Vs Noise Pollution

This is a particularly tricky trade off. As seen with traditional commercial airliners, the most economic and cost effective method of transporting people in the air is to build a fairly large aircraft. This improves the mass efficiency, as the increase in the weight of the aircraft is less than the increase in weight carrying capability of passengers and their luggage. Unfortunately however, the power required to create lift increases at a greater rate than the increase in passenger weight. This isn’t so much of a problem when you can take a long take-off, utilising the lift efficiency of a fixed wing, but when you are relying on rotors or turbines to create lift, this large increase in power requirements means noise increases very quickly. This problem is compounded when utilising electric power, as it means more battery power (and therefore battery mass) is also required. Thus there is a direct conflict between carrying capability and the economic benefits of  carrying more passengers in one vehicle, vs the power and noise that is necessary for take-off and landing. Once again, the use case of the vehicle will need to be carefully considered to ensure that an optimal balance is achieved.

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Population Density & Demand Vs Certification & Regulation Requirements

Basic logic dictates that demand for transport services that will drastically reduce travel times will be in higher demand in areas where there are higher population densities, where people tend to be more time poor, and where there is congestion problems with incumbent substitute travel options. However, as specified by Volocopter in their recent white paper Volocopter White Paper certification requirements are 100 times more stringent over cities than they are over rural areas. This is without considering that before too long there could be traffic jams in the sky, and thus there will likely be tariffs to cover the cost of directing and managing air traffic in densely populated areas. Another factor to consider is that in densely populated areas you are never far away from people, great for potential customers, but not so great when it comes to noise pollution and regulations that come with it.

Considering this, it is understandable to see small businesses such as Esprit Aeronautics covered in my previous blog artical: eVTOL, interview: Simon Scott. Founder and Owner of Esprit Aeronautics choose to operate away from cities in under-served rural areas. However, the main players in this sector are developing much more expensive vehicles that will need to be utilised more productively than serving rural areas will likely allow. Thus a strategy to overcome the barriers of operating above cities will be necessary.

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Market Segment vs Public Acceptance

The above mentioned Uber Elevate paper estimates that initial flight costs will be approximately $150 for a 50 mile journey. In energy and maintenance terms, it is likely that half of that cost will be just for take-off and landing. Thus there will be an initial $75 levy needed to break even before the journey duration is even considered. Over time Uber expect the cost to fall significantly to just $25 for a 50 mile journey, but in the near time it is clear that the service offering will need to be pitched at wealthy clients willing to choose a more expensive alternative to existing services in order to save journey time.

The problem here is that geographical locations where high net-worth individuals live tend to also to be areas with the least noise pollution, while also being the most aesthetically pleasing. Thus it will be harder to gain acceptance for services that bring easily noticeable noise pollution as well as potentially become a blot on an otherwise beautiful landscape. Further to this, if only 5% of the population can afford to use such a service, then the other 95% of the population are likely to be unhappy to be disturbed to enable the ‘privileged few’ to live a life of increased convenience. In nations where  introducing legislation tends to be a democratic process, introducing eVTOL services under the above circumstances may prove to be a challenge.

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First Mover Advantage Vs The Curse of the First Mover

First mover advantage will enable an organisation to work with certification agencies, which will in turn mean that legislation will naturally lean to cover their specific products. It will give you a head start in building a portfolio of qualified materials, processes and operating criteria, so you can tailor these to your business’s strengths. Pilots will be trained on your products and get used to flying them. You will get first option on licencing of areas (assuming air traffic control will be restricted by licencing areas and capping amount of traffic). You will also get a chance to establish your brand while there is less competition.

However, especially considering all of the uncertainties and trade-offs above, committing to capital investments when the industry is young means you are also committed to a strategy that carries a higher risk of failure than for a more mature market. Organisations that come late to the party can gain valuable insight from the first movers’ lessons learned, they can wait to see what concepts and business models become the most successful, and then simply target to beat these early leaders in order to gain market share. The first movers may find it hard to react to these late entrants as they have already spent their capital to develop a market which will likely be unprofitable during its early years.

The same can be said for infrastructure, early investment gives you a likely cost advantage as competition is low, and a head start in setting up key hubs. However, there is risk that as the sector develops, customer’s needs will also develop, and the original locations and architectural designs become quickly overlooked by newer options.

This is not to say that the early movers are destined to fail, but history doesn’t favour their chances. They will need to maintain agility to ensure that they adapt with the fast moving market and it’s regulations.

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In my next article I will look at a couple of the first movers in this emergent market, assess the strategic decisions they have made with regards to the above trade-offs, and evaluate what I feel are their strengths and weaknesses…

 

eVTOL Interview: Damian Kysely; Infrastructure manager at SkyPorts, and co-founder of The Aviary Project

See below for my interview with Damian Kysely; a subect matter expert on eVTOL and Urban Air Mobility (UAM). Damian is Infrastructure manager at SkyPorts skyports.net, a new business focused on developing the infrastructure required to support UAM. Damian is also co-founder of The Aviary Project medium.com/aviaryproject which was set up to facilitate collaboration in the emerging UAM and eVTOL sectors.

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Nick: Hi Damian, Many thanks for taking the time for me to tap into your knowledge!

First off, I have read that Skyports have partnered up with Volocopter, this strikes me as a partnership with huge potential for you guys. Volocopter are one of the more ambitious players in the market to date, and they are even working with the innovation arm of the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) in order to define the new regulations required for UAM.

Further to this, Volocopter have published some very eye-catching ideas of how they see UAM transport hubs of the future. They look like giant ski lift stations that can handle several hundreds of people.

Are you guys at Skyports actively involved with the conceptual architectural work that Volocopter has done to create this promotional material?

Damian: Skyports have worked with Volocopter to design and develop the first prototype ‘Volo-Port’ which will be built up in Singapore. This is effectively a qualification model that will test that we can meet many of the requirements for an eVTOL vertiport. Including managing the flow of passengers, getting them checked-in, and also the recharging of the vehicle itself, in this case battery swap.

We were not involved in the initial conceptualisation of the VoloHub, but of course we look to incorporate some of the high-throughput components into our future work with Volocopter. Skyports’ goal is to be the preferred infrastructure provider to Volocopter and other vehicle manufacturers and operators as the industry scales up.

Nick: Thanks for clarifying. With regards to Volocopter’s grand plans for their transport hubs, these look like they will need to be made on top of purpose-built buildings. Are Skyports currently in negotiations with companies so that they can incorporate new features into buildings that they are yet to start?

Damian: Skyports have secured several sites on top of existing buildings that have sufficient structural capacity to be retrofit with a vertiport of certain size. In parallel, it is very important that property developers incorporate vertiport requirements into their plans from day 1, otherwise we will end up with loads of buildings that are useless for this purpose. This is something we’re doing at Skyports as well and it is increasingly sought after. And yes, in the future purpose-built towers with Skyport provisions are very likely. For example, Uber aims to convert entire buildings (car parks) into Uber Hubs for UberAir services.

Nick: With regards to the legislation and regulation, which body creates and upholds this?

Damian: In the UK this will be CAA again. All of our vertiport designs comply with existing ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) heliport standards and CAA adopts them. Therefore CAA will be the one giving us a stamp from a regulatory point of view.  On a local level, it will be the city authorities and planners giving us a permission to construct them and operate them.

Nick: I also note that Lilium, a potential future competitor to Volocopter, is also looking to create their own infrastructure. This will enable them to offer a complete service offering, rather than just an eVTOL product. Do you see the different eVTOL companies collaborating with one another to share transport hubs, or do you think that they will seek to create their own unique hubs?

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Damian: I think that each organisation will seek to create it’s own individual hubs to start with, for example, I can’t see Volocopter and Lilium wanting to work together at this early stage when they are likely to be in competition with one another.

Skyports are already very close to most of the leading vehicle manufacturers alongside Volocopter. Our main principle is that all of our vertiports will be vehicle agnostic in the long term and everyone we have spoken with, including Volocopter and Lilium, agrees on this.

Nick: Looking at the established airline industry of today, most groundside operations and interfaces are standardised. These include refuelling, food and beverage logistics, as well as safety checks. Is work being done in order to standardise these and other items in the UAM sector?

Damian: There is some work being done in the U.S. looking at what should be standardised, however this is not the current priority of the eVTOL manufacturers. They are still very much looking at the overall systems design and how they can maximise the efficiency (cost / range / speed etc.) of their products.

Nick: I note also on the Skyports website that it is predicting drone deliveries over London by 2021. This statement was released almost a year ago. With the progress made since then, do you think that a 2021 date is still achievable?

Damian: Anything is achievable with enough resources! Joking aside, I think the way things are progressing, 2021 could be achievable for a point to point route, say for instance from one hospital to another. I think also that the route will need to run along the river. Once something like this has been fully proven then we may see an over land equivalent.

London is lagging some other locations. For instance, drone deliveries as I have just described are already happening in Switzerland and other parts of the world.

Nick: Are there any pertinent reasons why London is lagging behind?

Damian: Legislation and regulation are the biggest barriers to progress. This is not helped by the fact that London is notoriously ‘anti-helicopter’. In relative terms, London is a quiet city considering its size, and so helicopter noise pollution tends to be all the more noticeable, and therefore also unwelcome. This makes public percpetion and adoption of drones and other flying vehicles all the more challenging.

Nick: Well as a resident of London, I love the idea of flying taxis, but if it means I will have hundreds of helicopters flying above my head, I may quickly change my mind! Just how noisy are these eVTOL likely to be?

Damian: Volocopter and Uber Elevate have released white papers that hint on the estimated noise levels, which claim they are significantly quieter than traditional helicopters. But none of the other companies have. There seems to be quite a lot of secrecy surrounding this area. Without knowing the respective noise levels, it will be very difficult to get the legislation issues resolved.

Nick: Well Damian, I’d like to thank you once again for your time, this has been a very informative and enjoyable conversation.

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For those of you who would like to learn more about the industry, I encourage you to check out their excellent blog at The Aviary Project: https://medium.com/aviaryproject. As mentioned above, this was set up by Damian and others with the prime purpose of promoting eVTOL and UAM.

eVTOL, interview: Simon Scott. Founder and Owner of Esprit Aeronautics

As a first for my blog, see below for my interview with Simon Scott; owner of Esprit Aeronautics espritaero.com a business focused on developing a manned vertical take-off aircraft. Simon has been active within this sector since the 1990’s, long before eVTOL and drones became media trendy.

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This interview follows on from yesterday’s eVTOL blog entry: So are we finally going to live like the Jetson’s?? 

Nick: Hello Simon, firstly thank you for agreeing to the interview.

Nick: First off, please could you give a little detail upon your background, and how you became interested in the eVTOL sector?

Simon: Both my grandparents had served in or supporting the Royal Air Force and my youth was spent either making model aircraft or visiting air shows and museums in Europe. After leaving school at 15 I studied engineering before becoming an assistant metallurgist for a specialist castings company that supplied the aerospace industry.  At 19 years of age I joined the military as a guided weapon’s controller before working closely with the Army Air Corp on several operations. On leaving the military in the late 90’s my fascination had not diminished and I started to look at the research being done by Mark D. Moore (currently UBER Engineering Director of Vehicle Systems) when he was at NASA Langley Research Centre and following several email exchanges I started my own research into Personal Air Vehicles which led me towards hybrid propulsion and electric aircraft in the early 2000’s.

Nick: So this is not a recent venture for you, this is an area that you have been working upon for many years. You also have significant experience in the creation of drones. Does your ePAV carry a lot of design heritage from Esprit Aero’s drones? What are the key differences?

Simon: I’ve always been a believer in building something, not just a nice 3D CAD rendering. It is also better to build and test a real platform in nature as CFD (Computational fluid dynamics – used for aerodynamic analysis) may be a very useful tool but nature is unpredictable in many cases. I’ve also carried out testing at higher elevations, usually starting at 500m ASL unlike many which tend to test at scale and at sea level.

You learn a great deal from failure and I have experienced plenty in the early years with drone flight controllers and sensors far less capable than current versions, but I have also seen my designs carry out flights lifting payloads far greater than even some of the well-known drones of today cannot handle.

As far as heritage goes, if you can fly a conventional quad copter drone competently today you could fly one of our eVTOL platforms, it is that simple to fly.

Finally there are many differences between drones and manned vehicles, most notably, safety is of utmost importance, when carrying a “Live” cargo.

Nick: I think most will agree that public awareness of the future eVTOL market has rapidly increased in recent times. This awareness has been amplified due to the concept designs shown at this year’s Paris Airshow, and claims that cities such as London will be serviced by air taxis as early as 2025. Do you think that these 2025 claims are realistic?

Simon: I will say I am very sceptical of timelines as I have first-hand experience of just how long it takes to turn ideas and concepts into reality. There are far more barriers to market for eVTOL air taxis in the Urban Air Mobility sector than many openly admit to.

Obviously there are some exceptions when it comes to platforms we are already seeing in test videos online but we have yet to see any fly in an urban environment never mind carry a fare paying passenger between two vertiports in a city.

Nick: What do you think are the main barriers to achieving this 2025 target?

Simon: Obviously legislation requirements, not only for vehicle certification but also flight restrictions, noise levels and flight corridors over populated areas.

Social acceptance is key so safety requirements need to be much higher and the costs associated with using such means of transportation needs to be cost effective for passengers. Most people would enjoy saving an hour a day travelling but not if it costs them twice as much as using conventional means, which reduces the potential passenger numbers willing to pay for that time saving.

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Nick: So legislation and regulation will be key, unsurprisingly, but you also consider that there is high risk of the short to mid-term business case being unviable. With such significant barriers remaining before city air taxis are accepted for use, and with the recent rapid increase in eVTOL businesses across the world, it looks like at least some of these ventures will not end with success. Considering this, what is Esprit Aero’s planned product and service offering?

Simon: We are targeting Rural Air Mobility (RAM) and at first, we are looking at the use of single and dual seat platforms for first responders. Many rural areas are receiving very little support from emergency services due to budget cuts and low staffing numbers. Smaller ePAV solutions are force multipliers and allow a greatly increased response time.

Nick: So, you are looking to provide highly mobile transport solutions for emergency services in remote locations where there is a high need. In affect you are proposing to offer a smaller, quieter, more cost-effective and easier (safer) to fly, alternative to a helicopter? If the eVTOL consumer taxi market is delayed, do you see this space being targeted by the eVTOLs taxi companies, while we wait for the certification and regulation hurdles to be overcome?

Simon: Most of the air taxi designs could be modified but the focus by the main player’s remains air taxis. Would a local authority pay £4,000,000 GBP for an eVTOL air taxi platform when they could purchase a dual seat ePAV for less than £200,000 GBP? There is also the platform footprint to consider as some of the eVTOL designs being developed are nearly as large as conventional helicopters.

Nick: Regarding the seemingly booming eVTOL industry, have you found that this has helped or hindered your business development strategy? Are you finding it easier to find both customers and suppliers now than say two years ago?

Simon: We tend to get far more suppliers interested in us now as many read the analysis & market predictions believing it to be a good opportunity for them at an early stage. Customer interest is growing but many are “tyre kickers” and are wisely waiting until they see the real platforms working before committing.

Nick: With so many different types of eVTOL being developed, do you think that there will be key areas where parts will become homogeneous? Are there any of these products that you plan to specialise in, or in fact outsource to a specialist supplier, rather than create yourselves?

Simon: We have a plan and that has to be flexible as nobody can predict the future so we will keep a keen eye on the industry & market and react accordingly.

Nick: What do you see as your key objectives in the mid-term, once you have achieved certification and the ePAV is in use in the UK? Do you plan to develop business overseas? Also, are you planning to develop any additional vehicles to the ePAV in the future? If you were to develop an additional product offering to the ePAV, what differences would it have (eg. What do you see as a strong second market)?

Simon: At this stage we are focused on finding the right investment for us and our plans to get our designs into the air safely and legally.

Obviously there is international interest and due to our experience with international suppliers and the wider aerospace industry we can visualise dealerships across the globe in the future as well as the international support infrastructure that will be needed.

We are aware that certain clients require bespoke solutions that will need to be built “in-house” for security reasons.

Nick: So it sounds like you will need at least a small manufacturing facility, with the option of outsourcing high volume orders on build to print licences as and when customer demand deems it necessary.

Many thanks for your time Simon, it has been very interesting to speak with you. I think considering the current market, your business development strategy is smart; offering a product with low unit cost that offers clear advantages over existing products (e.g. helicopters), and will also open the market to users who may not have previously considered flying vehicles as a viable option. I look forward to hear about further developments!

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For those who are reading this blog, if you would like to learn more about what Simon and Esprit Aeronautics are developing, please check the links below:

The business case for Rural vs Urban air mobility: https://www.espritaero.com/ram-rural-air-mobility

The ‘barriers’ to Urban air mobility: https://www.espritaero.com/are-evtol-air-taxi-s-the-only-solution

So are we finally going to live like the Jetson’s??

Human’s have been buzzing around in flying cars since before we landed on the moon, in cartoon form at least. However, if the hype is to believed then maybe 60 years after the first Jetsons episode, we in the real world are finally catching up…

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Although I’m not old enough to have witnessed the first showing of the Jetsons, which aired in September 1962, I do fondly remember their 80’s shows. The life and times of the Jetson family was given to us as a futuristic alternative to the Flintstones, and the notion of flying cars as well as other futuristic inventions left a lasting impression upon me.

However, despite the optimism that us pre-millennials carried with us through the 80’s, it didn’t seem to translate into reality. Our wide eyed vision of the future was most likely fueled by our parents witnessing the moon landings when they were a similar age to us, together with the emergence of the computing age; which would seemingly make anything possible. I remember reading children’s books that were telling me by the year 2000 we would no longer be using petroleum fueled cars. I also remember watching Back to the Future II in 1988, which told me that by the time I was 35 I would be whizzing around on a flying hover-board.

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You can’t deny that the impact that the likes of Mark Zuckerburg has had on our lives is both significant and unpredicted. But in terms of tangible inventions, when compared to what was being predicted, it’s certainly a case of must try harder. Sure, I love the fact that I can make my face look older than it really is just by using a special app, but how come it still takes me 24 hours to get to Australia? and while I’m at it, how come my journey out of London for a weekend retreat now takes longer than it did for my parents at my age??

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Well documented studies have shown that social media isn’t actually that social, and with climate change becoming ever more of an issue, the challenge of physically connecting people seems to be becoming much more difficult than the now solved challenge of virtually connecting people.

I mean, if you have a vacuum cleaner manufacturer has decided that they can make better electric vehicles than incumbent vehicle manufacturers, then surely the industry is in need of a shakeup?

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Well, finally we might be getting there… following on from Elon Musk’s foray into the electric vehicle market with Tesla, companies are starting to take this one step further and combine electric propulsion with air travel.

lilium jetThis year has seen a marked increase in media exposure for where we hope the next generation of aircraft will take us. The 2019 Paris Airshow displayed several electrical powered concepts, including an offering from both Airbus and Boeing. Roland Berger, an aerospace thought leader, have stated there are now 170 different ‘e’planes globally Roland Berger Study. Of these 170, there are two German based start ups, one who is aiming to serve London with air taxis by 2025 Lilium Jet’s 2025 target, and another who is aiming to go one further and provided automated flying taxis. I challenge you to watch the video clip below and not get excited…

Having been rather blown away by these claims, my imagination was quickly kicked into overdrive with what possibilities and opportunities such developments will bring; from transformational commuting experiences to exciting employment opportunities. However, as the saying goes, once bitten twice shy. With the broken promises of Marty McFly and Doc Brown still fresh in my memory, I thought it only right to investigate further into this fresh and exciting sector. Just how real are these claims?

I will be sharing my findings upon this blog, so you will be the first to know. Starting with an interview with a business owner who is developing a manned eVTOL (electrically powered vertical take-off and landing) vehicle, which I will post tomorrow…

 

Driving Digital Strategy: The future shape of the supermarket industry

This entry has been born out of reading the book; Driving Digital Strategy, by Sunil Gupta. It has made me realise just how under-served we are by the supermarket industry. Most of us would agree that we spend much too much time buying groceries, it’s tedious, and with today’s technology, it’s not necessary…

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First off, some notes on the book itself. I found it quite effective at making me see things from different angles, notably from the eyes of the customer. It touches a lot on ‘marketing myopia’, something everyone should be aware of; the nature of your business is not what you supply (e.g. groceries), it is what customer needs that you solve (e.g feeding a family) It also inspired me to write the previous blog article below. So it really is the book that keeps on giving:

Digital transformation in the aerospace industry… Really??

What has also inspired this article is a case study and strategy assignment that our class completed for M&S Simply Food. This got me onto the train of thought described below. Hopefully, from me writing this down, it will actually happen; and grocery shoppers will live happily ever after.

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If you consider the average supermarket, and the average grocery shopper, you could be forgiven to think that the consumer has it quite easy. The supermarket advertising slogans would certainly have you believe that this is the case: ‘Every little helps’, ‘Live well for less’, ‘save money, live better’. In truth however, I am yet to meet someone who looks forward to their local shopping trip, or wrestling their shopping all the way home from the supermarket. Of course, there is online shopping, this is a step in the right direction, but not enough.

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Most shopping trips, or online shopping sprees, start with an inventory check, then a mental note of the household’s upcoming schedule, followed by some sort of meal planning, before any shopping can start. All of this is unnecessary. It is certainly not beyond today’s technology that a supermarket can offer you a service whereby purchases are recorded in a personalized inventory profile. Then, as you use items for cooking, a quick scan of you phone onto the bar-code could allow you to update your stock levels. If you add to this a facility where you can store your favourite recipes, rather than shopping per item, you can update your shopping list automatically from what you intend to cook. Going another step further, what is stopping recipe books from having bar codes against their recipes, so that you can scan these and add these to your shopping list?

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Once we have this level of service, the supermarket chains can really start living up to their promises. A family on a budget? A simple algorithm can take your current home food stocks, and suggest meals that will require the minimum spend in order to make up meals. Alternatively the same algorithm can take your shopping list made from the meals you have selected, and offer savings from suggesting similar but cheaper alternatives. Have children? Special diet needs? Perhaps you are training for a marathon, or need a high protein diet? Once again why can’t you tell your online shopping platform these requirements so that it can offer you improvements to your manual shopping list. Netflix and Amazon have been suggesting films considering our viewing patterns for years, so supermarkets should be able to offer alternative meals similar to those that we regularly cook, but cheaper and / or more healthy.

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The above covers the bare necessities, now how about living up to the promise of helping us to ‘live better’? Having a sales channel online is all very well, but considering that food makes up such a big part of our everyday lives, the supermarkets really are missing a trick by not offering us much more than this.

For instance, cookery programs are one of the most popular genres on television, following in Amazon’s footsteps, supermarkets could quite easily offer cookery programs that are matched with shopping list options on line. These could be viewed live in the evenings, offering interactive content where viewers can send in pictures and feedback of their experiences while following the celebrity chef. Or they can be streamed at your convenience at a later date. Do you have children? Why not tune in to a special children’s show that encourages children to help you cook the evening meal? Thus getting them used to cooking and embracing a healthy lifestyle. Also, why not let shoppers suggest meals to be cooked by celebrity chefs, offering an interactive relationship between the customer and the supermarket.

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Alternatively, why not have a quiet night in with your partner where you both get stuck in to a live cookery show? Supermarkets could go even further here, offering live Master Chef style competitions, where customers can apply and compete in live cookery competitions. Us at home can try and emanate their recipes while we watch the shows, and perhaps the competition winners can get a regular slot on one of the cooking channels? Customers could also write in to suggest meals that they would like to see cooked by celebrity chefs.

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With Amazon having a JV with Morrison’s and purchasing both Whole Foods and Deliveroo, and Ocado soon to offer delivery times of one hour, it looks like one trend will be to offer grocery shopping at late notice. This will certainly help add a little variety and flexibility to our lives, if we can receive a healthy and quick to cook food option, as an alternative to a sloppy takeaway, then I for one will be happy. However, these delivery facilities should also be utilised to deliver parcels and other online shopping to your door. Online shopping does offer you delivery time flexibility that you can’t get else where, you are often able to fix the delivery to a one hour time slot. If you could get all of your parcels delivered at the same time as your shopping, meaning you avoid the frustrating ‘we couldn’t deliver your parcel because your were out’ note pushed through your letterbox. Wouldn’t this be great?

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These are just some of the many improvements that supermarkets can offer to their customers. However, I’m sure you get the idea. As for supermarkets themselves, there must be a first mover advantage for implementing stuff like this. Will it come from Amazon; the customer obsessed behemoth? Or will the incumbents come to their senses and get there first? Only time will tell, but I know who I would place my bets on…

 

How to create positive environmental impact through consumer demand..

As consumers become ever more environmentally conscientious, giving them access to the data to help make informed spending decisions would force businesses to tackle sustainability.  The emergence of block chain and the Internet of Things is making this concept a real possibility.

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Today there is much concern for our Earth’s environment, and climate change appears high on many peoples’ agendas. The media shows us that high profile protests are increasing, such as those from Extinction Rebellion this year in London, and the rousing words from Greta Thunberg in late 2018.

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Sir David Attenborough has also helped increase the world’s awareness of what impact  our consumption habits are having upon the planet and nature around us. The Google Trends chart below shows the dramatic increase in searches for the term “Plastic Recycle” immediately after Sir David’s Blue Planet episode showing how single use plastics are hurting our planet. Approximately one year on from the first broadcast of this episode GlobalCitizen.org reported that it has changed the lifestyle of 88% of viewers. Fast forward to Spring 2019, and Attenborough’s hard hitting new documentary episode on the effects of climate change is set to have a similar impact.

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Despite all of this attention that the subject is attracting, it dawned on me some time ago that currently there is scant information available to enable environmentally conscious consumers to make informed decisions. What products have high carbon footprints? By making some small changes to consumption habits, how can a person’s carbon footprint be reduced? Food packages have nutrition information on them, why don’t we have something similar for climate impact? While considering these questions, I came across the excellent website and app gikibadges.com which allows you to scan bar codes of supermarket items to find out how they impact the environment and your personal health. I would strongly encourage all readers to download and use this app.

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Giki is an exceptional tool and a step in the right direction, however I feel that the business world could do a lot more to help us and them. For me, an optimal solution would combine the world’s obsession of social media, the internet of things and block chain. This solution would give people a user profile that updated their carbon footprint with their spending patterns. These profiles could be kept private, or for advocates who are proud of how they have reduced their footprint, made public. This would create some friendly competition between consumers, which in turn would lead to further carbon footprint reductions.

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How would such a tool create revenue? Each user would be a strong climate change protection advocate. For each of these users there would be data available showing all of their spending patterns. The environmentally conscientious business could access this data and propose alternative purchases to users to further reduce their carbon footprint. This creates a virtuous cycle, where environmentally friendly suppliers are selected ahead of others, causing more suppliers to follow suit. It also creates a system whereby those businesses that place sustainability high on their priorities have the chance to be rewarded for it. On the other side of the scale, suppliers who were unwilling to participate would eventually be overlooked by consumers, forcing them to adapt or lose market share.

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With block chain now becoming widely used, it will soon be possible to track transactions throughout a product’s entire supply chain, and thus claimed carbon footprint values can be verified. While the Internet of Things will allow us to upload all purchases onto our profiles immediately. Meanwhile there are also some forward thinking businesses that are now providing ‘extra-smart’ electricity meters that show you usage of each individual appliance. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see a world where our carbon footprints are measured and recorded real time, and businesses are able to see where they can help us make improvements.

The question I have is: Who will move first to take advantage of this? A supermarket and social media partnership? Amazon perhaps? I will be watching this space..

Globalisation, International Teams, and the Triangle of Trouble

I’m sure you have been on the receiving end of a botched attempt of getting two teams in distant locations to work in harmony. You may have even attempted it yourself. The good news is that as humans we are hardwired to struggle in these situations, so don’t be too hard on yourself. The bad news is that it’s pretty difficult to overcome…

Cultural-Boundaries

As globalisation has increased the need to integrate international teams has also increased. However, humans do not naturally find cross cultural integration easy, not least when we have to do so via modern communication technology and when located thousands of miles from one another. This article combines a couple of popular theories to explain why we find this so tricky, and offers some advice on how you might be able to overcome such a hurdle.

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The Triangle of Trouble…

CULTURE: First off, let’s not underestimate how a person’s background affects their social norms. One culture’s polite is another’s rude, and what may be considered friendly in one culture may be considered disrespectful in another. Dutch and Russians are renowned for being direct in their communication, but also appreciate the honesty of direct feedback from others. On the other hand Chinese and Japanese are notoriously unobtrusive  with their feedback, but are intuitive enough to be able to read another’s subtle body language to observe their opinions. Where does your social norm fit in with the culture that you are communicating with? If you don’t know then you may be offending them even as you feel you are rolling out the charm offensive.

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AWARENESS: This is a simple appreciation that we humans have an incredible propensity to think that anything in which we don’t know the detail is far simpler than it actually is. Once again I’m sure you are all familiar with having to complete a task that is far more complex than those asking for its completion can comprehend. A common example is the introduction of a new software that promises to fix a set of business problems. What usually happens is that the software introduction makes the problems worse; once the software is installed people stop trying to work in such a way to mitigate the old problems, thinking that the software has taken away this need. In reality the software will need to be built carefully into existing processes in order to improve them.

Outsourcing and cross culture working is very similar to installing software. If a business is considering outsourcing something or collaborating with a distant team, then it’s likely that the their current state of operations is not satisfactory. But throwing problems over to a third party and expecting them to intuitively know how (or indeed want) to solve your problems is not realistic. When this utopian and low maintenance solution turns out to not be more of a problem than a solution, then who’s fault is it, yours or theirs?

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EMPATHY: This is perhaps the biggest barrier to successful integration, and is an effect of cultural divisions and a lack of awareness. We as humans tend to be emotionally switched off to those that are either culturally different to us or geographically  distant. When we are talking down the phone to someone who we can barely understand, who seems starkly dissimilar to us and other people we know, and is thousands of miles away, then we tend to diminish their importance and relevance. Naturally we will see our opinions as more insightful than theirs, unfortunately they will be thinking the same thing about us.

empathy

…Knowing that you are not alone with your international integration problems is comforting up to a point, but how do you overcome these problems? Being aware of how difficult successful integration can be is the first step; and in cases where team integration over the short term is critical, or if you are not committed for the long haul, it is probably safer to keep within the same team. This will not always be possible or practical, and where integration is necessary, knocking down the three pillars of the triangle of trouble will be key. How do you increase the empathy between the two teams? Increasing their awareness of one another, and creating an appreciation of one another’s cultural norms, while also sharing some common ground.

In my personal experience this is best (and most time efficiently) solved through face to face contact. An exchange programme on a rotation basis is a good option; relocating team members for a set period of time. The team members who are relocated are also best placed to act as a communication bridge between their new team and their familiar team back home. They will know how their original team think and work, and so communication with them will be more effective. Also necessary is educating each team of the other’s cultures and behaviors, perhaps even some history lessons. If intuitively you feel that the these actions will not help, then it’s likely that the integration period will be all the more difficult. But in any case, over time the two teams should grow to know one another better, and will eventually start to work as one.

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Achieving success is no easy task, and productivity may initially fall before it begins to rise, but this is not surprising when you consider the forces against. The most important factor is the simple realisation of how difficult the integration process can be; if you fail to take this issue seriously then you will likely be throwing away valuable time and resources, at the expense of productivity and the morale of your team members.

Digital transformation in the aerospace industry… Really??

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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…

P180

…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…

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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!

danielscareers-careerladder

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.

Review of Coursera.org, online management and energy courses

This is my first of many intended posts that will cover my reviews of courses and other educational content that I have used or read. This particular post covers several of the online courses provided by coursera.org that I have completed. Reflecting my aspirations beyond Sloan, these have been a combination of management and energy courses. 

coursera

 

Managing the Company of the Future. Created by LBS | Julian Birkinshaw.

managing the company of the future

This course was fresh and insightful while being light enough to easily digest. It covers the different organisational structures used by modern companies, ideals used to motivate staff, and common problems encountered by businesses due to inappropriate organisational structures and processes. It is worth saying here that Julian is a very highly regarded professor as well as the deputy dean of London Business School, so considering that this course is free I would strongly recommend it.

 

The Manager’s Toolkit. Created by Birbeck University of London.

managers toolkit

This course for me was not so crisp, there were some useful areas covered, such as conducting interviews, giving feedback, and facilitating meetings, however the content seemed a little tired and dated. I would strongly recommend the Managing the Company of the Future course ahead of this., as they are both free.

 

Global Energy and Climate Policy. Created by SOAS University of London.

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This course was fairly decent, it offered a lot of reading material around the subject, and went into some detail as to how energy policy is changing around the world, and what structural changes are necessary in order to ensure transition to a sustainable society. My only gripe is that because it is political in nature, the content is fairly high level and conceptual in nature, although that said there are some quote insightful interviews etc so if you are interested in this subject I would recommend you having a look.

Our Energy Future. Created by the University of California San Diego.

our energy future

I have saved the best until last here, I really, really enjoyed this course and found the content incredibly informative. I would recommend everyone at least watch the opening two videos on the first module, these were superb. The only downside to this course was it was quite time consuming – I think it may have taken around 15 hours of my time by the time I finished, and this is without considering any of the written essays (if you opt to take them – you can just opt to watch the video content).

Key take homes for me were:

  • The world’s population increase over the last century or so is due to a dramatic increase in agriculture productivity, which in turn is due to harnessing the power of fossil fuels. Without these fuels or alternatives we will not even come close to sustaining the world’s current population, let alone future forecasts.
  • Fossil fuels (especially oil) are so energy dense and cheap to process into a usable substance, that it is incredibly challenging to create alternative energy sources that are viable alternatives. For instance, modern batteries contain several times less storage capacity as the same weight and volume equivalent of oil. This is why fossil fuels are so popular and hard to remove from everyday life.
  • Several bio fuels are being developed that will extract CO2 from the atmosphere, meaning that there use will actively reduce CO2 in the atmosphere over their total lifespan. These products can be used with existing oil refinery infrastructure. Considering this, we may find more cars move across to this type of fuel rather than moving to completely electric.
  • Approximately 40% of today’s global warming is due to ‘black carbon’ which is released into the air when burning wood and other materials used for cooking in the developing world. Black carbon only stays in the atmosphere for approximately 2 weeks, so if we could provide alternative cooking methods to the developing world, we could dramatically reduce global warming. Now there;s food for thought…