It’s the expectation that our leaders will be flexible and able to adapt to changing conditions. Being adaptable also means being resilient – and being resilient can get you far in life, as William E. “Bill” Boeing taught us. Boeing, founder of The Boeing Co., was the quintessential leader – resourceful, visionary, always striving for perfection, and adaptable.
The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle is a time capsule for the commercial and military aviation and space industries. It’s here that I stood beneath the first commercial Boeing 747, the towering “City of Everett,” that ushered in the age of the jumbo jet in 1969. It’s here I that walked through the cabin of the Boeing 707 that transported then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to Dallas, Texas, on that fatal November weekend in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was slain by an assassin. And it's here, in an historic building known as the Red Barn, that I discovered Bill Boeing’s desk and the framed photos and other artifacts associated with his life and career.
Boeing was a timber man in Washington, a state known for its logging industry. He built boats before creating an airplane company in 1916. His first factory, the Red Barn, was built on the Duwamish River in Tukwila, Wash., and remained at that location until 1980, when it was moved — literally by the steady hands of 344 Amish men who lifted it from its foundation, then transported it by trucks and a barge — to its current location at Boeing Field.
At his desk in 1917, Boeing was faced with a critical decision: How might the then-Boeing Airplane Company survive after its government contracts were canceled, when the aviation industry came to a near-standstill at the end of World War I? To keep the company open and retain his workers, Boeing was forced to diversify. He did so by manufacturing furniture, counter tops, phonograph cases and flat-bottomed boats called “Sea Sleds.” He adapted.
At the end of the war, Boeing began concentrating on commercial aircraft and he secured contracts to supply airmail service, and later, passenger service. The rest, as they say, is history.
“A new broom sweeps clean but you can have more fun with an old rake!”
“You meet circumstances the way they come and then you adapt to them”
“Don’t ever lock this door again!”