Boeing Engineer Says Corporate Culture Change Behind MAX Issues


A spokesman for the union that represents some of the workers who build Boeing airplanes claims the company’s shift to a “cost-cutting” corporate culture has isolated employees, alienated suppliers and customers and ultimately underlies the problems it’s having with its current airplanes, including the 737 MAX. Stan Sorscher, of the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), wrote an opinion piece for the Seattle Times on Friday outlining the causes and effects of Boeing’s corporate evolution. “The cost-cutting culture is the opposite of a culture built on productivity, innovation, safety or quality,” Sorscher wrote. “Boeing’s experience with cost-cutting business culture is apparent.”

He claims Boeing shifted its emphasis from employee empowerment and collaboration to one of earning maximum return for shareholders. He claims that pointing out issues on the factory floor brands workers as troublemakers and therefore stifles the inherent desire of most workers to ensure product quality. He also said cost cutting, which is appropriate for some businesses, is the antithesis of a “performance-driven” model that governs complex manufacturing. “This cost-cutting culture is the opposite of a culture built on productivity, innovation, safety, or quality,” he wrote. “A high-performance work culture requires trust, coordination, strong problem-solving, open flow of information, and commitment to the overall success of the program.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Regarding the Boeing article: it is entirely possible that Boeing has shifted its focus to cost cutting. It is also possible that the union has misdiagnosed the corporate objectives due to poor internal communications. Not being a Boeing employees I am not privy to that insider information. What is indisputable is that Boeing is a profit center and it is their obligation to return the highest possible profit to their shareholders. They also have an obligation to produce a safe, high quality product for their customers. These two objectives are not, or need not, be in conflict with one another. Frequently, the high quality provider is also the low cost provider due to improvements in process, performance, management, training and education, material and machinery. Cost reduction is often a secondary objective of quality improvement. However, I do find it disconcerting that the union official takes the opportunity to challenge Boeing’s management practices during this period of internal crisis related to the 767 Max and makes a blanket statement unsubstantiated by factual reference.

  2. Public perception of the cozy relationship between aerospace manufacturers, airlines, a corrupt government and FAA is destroying the US Aviation industry regardless of the experts and their hired mouthpieces
    The NTSB safety recommendations are ignored by FAA mostly, indicating total disregard for the flying public.
    Does anyone honestly believe an airliner fully loaded with many over weight and some wheelchair dependent passengers can be evacuated in the required 30 seconds in an emergency.
    These problems lie squarely with jet setting upper fat cats in the industry.

  3. 767 Max?!
    I hope you are writing about the 737, Richard.

    When the entire raison d’etre of a company is maximizing profit, producing commercial airliners is not the optimum product to make, or sell.

    Bombardier seems to have figured that out, and now just sells Learjets, where the profit margin is big. All the other aircraft models have been sold off, to various buyers.

    Possibly, Boeing would fare just great by selling off most of their plane models to other manufacturers and concentrate on the products with the biggest profit margin.

    The 737 MAX was the last upgrade to the 737, and might well become the ultimate one.

    Whoever OKed these add-ons, and totally ignored telling the customers technical staff about it, nor taught the pilots how to handle it, is so weird, that I’ll do my utmost to avoid flying with any of them.

    And Boeing’s way of blaming the pilots for the crashes reeks of money grubbing, it is them foreigners, not us, shoot the messenger.

    That IAG buys a lot of MAXs at bargain prices, makes me much less prone to fly with them hereafter. Their choice, of course, as they too must maximize the profit for their shareholders.

  4. The very best implementation of a flawed concept is itself inherently flawed.
    Blending automation with real-time human control is a fundamentally flawed concept. Tempting; understandable, perhaps. But forgivable in today’s world? We shall see…

  5. Culture starts at the top, or an existing culture needs to at least be supported by the top. Muilenburg, still vehemently defending Boeing during the quarterly report call on April 24th instead of humbly looking inward, showed himself unworthy of this 100 year old aviation company.