The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Getting Rid of Phenomenally Talented Assholes

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Maureen Tkacik writing for the The American Prospect:

Like most neoliberal institutions, Boeing had come under the spell of a seductive new theory of “knowledge” that essentially reduced the whole concept to a combination of intellectual property, trade secrets, and data, discarding “thought” and “understanding” and “complex reasoning” possessed by a skilled and experienced workforce as essentially not worth the increased health care costs. CEO Jim McNerney, who joined Boeing in 2005, had last helmed 3M, where management as he saw it had “overvalued experience and undervalued leadership” before he purged the veterans into early retirement.

“Prince Jim”—as some long-timers used to call him—repeatedly invoked a slur for longtime engineers and skilled machinists in the obligatory vanity “leadership” book he co-wrote. Those who cared too much about the integrity of the planes and not enough about the stock price were “phenomenally talented assholes,” and he encouraged his deputies to ostracize them into leaving the company. He initially refused to let nearly any of these talented assholes work on the 787 Dreamliner, instead outsourcing the vast majority of the development and engineering design of the brand-new, revolutionary wide-body jet to suppliers, many of which lacked engineering departments. The plan would save money while busting unions, a win-win, he promised investors. Instead, McNerney’s plan burned some $50 billion in excess of its budget and went three and a half years behind schedule.

“There’s a form we all had to sign that says you take responsibility for anything that goes wrong, and it states pretty clearly that if something happens to a plane because of something you did wrong, you can face a major fine or jail time for that,” the manager recalled. “The Everett managers took that seriously. Charleston leadership did not.”

This is what happens when you replace highly skilled employees with years of institutional knowledge with managers who only care about the stock price. You would think the Boing board would have learned their lesson - I wouldn’t count on it.

Meanwhile, pieces are flying off the Boeing planes actually in use at an alarming rate, criminal investigations are under way, and another in a long line of stock-conscious CEOs is stepping down. Boeing’s largest union, the Machinists, is trying to snag a board seat because, in the words of its local president, “we have to save this company from itself.”

SPEEA has demanded, understandably, that the board choose an aerospace engineer as its next CEO. But there are few signs that will happen: None of the names floated thus far for the spot have been aerospace engineers, and the shoo-in for the position, GE’s Larry Culp, is not an engineer at all.