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Fact Finding Leadership: International Management and Globalization

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Caroline Westerhof
March 8, 2024

Corporate success at the initial management level can fail when corporate success and international competition defy character building. Aristotle once said, “one becomes virtuous only by acting virtuously. If the unholy spirit is to win at all costs, vice can set in, ego becomes ugly and dominant, and humility is destroyed.” Misconduct and greed are subject to destroy any leader’s character. 

To that end, the Boeing MAX 737 disasters reflect the destruction of a leader’s character. Anxious to surpass Airbus in the competition for sales, the then president, Dennis Muilenburg, pushed Boeing immediately into the market. Pilots and other members of Boeing committees said vehemently, “the plane was not ready to fly.” The president refused to listen. These planes crashed within fifteen minutes of takeoff, filled with some 346 passengers and crew. No one survived. One person on the ground also died. Today, as we approach 2024, some of these flaws still exist. The media does not “let up.” 

There were many downfalls that resulted in these tragedies, the most significant being the greed of specific leaders. Such leaders, unless penalized or imprisoned, will continue to lack morals and integrity. In addition, the tragedies were compounded by illegal regulatory oversight as well as a lack of training for even the pilots who flew the two MAX 737’s. 

The United States regulatory agency, the Federal Aviation Administration Agency (FAA) bungled its oversight of regulatory responsibilities. They allowed Boeing to do its own regulatory inspections which are is in violation of regulatory requirements. 

The Boeing leader refused to listen to employees discussing pre-safety warnings. Boeing President, Dennis Muilenburg, lied before and after the tragedies to cover up the situation. He cut the time it took to complete the MAX 737, so its sales would be greater than Airbus. It is now known that Boeing had experienced safety failures which they had refused to divulge to the United States Federal Aviation Administration. Rather than admit there had been problems with the manufacturing of the plane before it had left the Boeing hangars, Muilenburg blamed the pilots who lost their lives.

In 2023, this is still going on, noting press releases of when the Boeing would be flying again; it lifted up a few months ago, and then those planes had to be recalled after additional technical flaws were found. In fact, Southwest Airlines had ordered 100 of these planes, which were then recalled.   

One pilot stated, “it was unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA and the airlines, would have pilots fly without adequate training or even provide highly complex resources to differentiate the model from an earlier one.” The new president, David Calhoun said “this is worse than has been said.” Delta Airlines is now placing orders with Airbus, and has canceled orders for the Max 737.   

Muilenburg still has not, as of yet, discussed compensation for the families of those who had died, weary for a long time to even admit any wrongdoing had taken place. It was only after continued pressure from the media and leaks from former pilots, that Muilenburg eventually stated, “We made a mistake.”

This type of after-the-fact remark highlights the statement Connie Stuart, press secretary to former President Nixon’s wife, Pat, made to me which note how such press statements take on many forms of continued, misleading untruths, when not immediately handled. As I write this, rumors and negative statements regarding the situation are still “hitting the media.” On December 18, 2023, Scott McCartney wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Boeing has suffered slow-down in deliveries ..of the 737 model…because of quality issues and FAA certification delays…The 737 MAX 7, originally scheduled to start flying in 2022, now is projected to start deliveries in 2024.” (Note: “projected is not the same as “predicted.” “Projected” means it “may or may not.”)

The positive perceptions of a developed leader’s character are doubly destroyed when corporate leaders and public administration agency heads become embedded with each other in scandalous behaviors—in turn, we all “pay” the price.

Author: Caroline Westerhof may be reached at [email protected].

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