Boeing’s CEO is Stuck Trying to Execute a Vision That Doesn’t Exist

Joshua Kroon, Vice President, LEVICK

In an ideal company, the board generates a vision for the future, and the CEO executes that vision. Boeing, however, seems to be lacking in vision, which puts CEO Dennis Muilenburg in an awkward position.

In the wake of the Flight 302 crash in Ethiopia, Muilenburg has tried to pivot the company towards a more humanistic approach, posting more videos and pictures of himself inspecting the planes and speaking with employees. When the Boeing account posted an ill-advised Tweet about first-quarter results, Muilenburg attempted to help the company save face by steering the conversation towards quality and performance. In recent media appearances, he has appeared remorseful and humbled.

Muilenburg’s on an island – like the little Dutch boy and the dike he has been left to plug up the holes as they appear. He’s been tasked with executing a vision that doesn’t exist – trying to do the right thing isn’t enough, you need a plan.

Now, Boeing is apologizing because they got caught. By attempting to take control of the narrative so late, they’ve put themselves in an awkward position. Apologizing under duress does not make for an authentic apology.

At this point, Boeing needs to start pursuing a comms strategy that demonstrates the actions the company is taking to solve the problem. Muilenburg has frequently stated that Boeing “owns” the problem and that actions are being undertaken, but people need to see action.

Recently, news has come out that there are potentially four whistleblowers from within the company. Whistleblowers don’t tend to come forward unless something egregious has happened or unless they’ve been forced to come forward in such a manner due to a lack of proper internal channels. Either way, the news is bad for Boeing, and yet, Boeing needs to embrace them. Boeing needs not to interfere, trust the process, be transparent, and let this situation run its course. If there are real issues here, Boeing needs to prove its commitment to the ideals it has spoken of by dealing with the concerns of the whistleblowers honestly and transparently. By embracing the whistleblowers, Boeing has an opportunity to regain some of its authenticity and set itself on the right path moving forward.

America loves a comeback story. There’s something about a hero being beaten down and then rising again that appeals to the spirit of the American people. To make such a comeback happen, Boeing needs to develop a comprehensive vision, one that its CEO can commit to. As a company, Boeing is an American icon – it has a chance to become one of the greatest comebacks in our country’s history.


Joshua KroonAbout the Author: Joshua Kroon is a seasoned strategic communications professional with LEVICK Strategic Communications, headquartered in Washington, D.C. His work as a strategist and counselor has touched numerous issue areas, most notably government relations, international relations, defense, technology, and finance. He specializes in developing strategies that help advance efforts to catalyze broad impact through the sharing of effective ideas and practices.

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1 Comment

  1. Patrick Trancu on May 3, 2019 at 2:55 am

    An apology without an assumption of responsibility is meaningless. The first rule of crisis management is to recognize the problem and assume responsibility. Boeing’s CEO has failed on both counts.

    The question then is “why”? Has he failed because he is being led by his legal team? Has he failed because there is a “culture” problem at Boeing? Has he failed because of cognitive biases? Has he failed for other reasons?

    America certainly loves heros and comebacks. And Boeing is too big to fail. But it is potentially facing a huge challenge: will it be able to convince passengers to step back in a 737Max once the aircraft is considered safe to fly by authorities?

    And an equally important internal challenge: can it change its corporate culture?