What Should Boeing Do to Fix Its Longstanding Problems?

As far as signs of trouble in a company go, a hole blowing through the wall of one of its airplanes at 16,000 feet is not subtle.

So it was not a surprise that the Boeing chief executive, Dave Calhoun, spent most of the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday focused on safety. “We caused the problem, and we understand that,” he said of the Jan. 5 incident.

Mr. Calhoun said the company had instituted additional quality controls and paused production for a day to focus on safety and quality. But Boeing’s issues span decades, and some aviation and management experts have long suggested they go deeper than processes, pointing instead to a shift in the company’s culture that put finances ahead of engineering. Fixing that may require more drastic measures.

“What Calhoun and his team need to do requires both a leap of faith from the way they’ve been doing business and some kind of viable, credible courage,” said Nancy Koehn, a historian at Harvard Business School who focuses on crisis leadership.

DealBook asked experts in company culture, aviation, and management for actions Boeing could take to try and fix its longstanding problems.

Design a completely new plane. The 737 Max, the workhorse of the Boeing fleet, was introduced in 1968. “They’ve been putting in new components, but I think they need a whole new aircraft design based on all the lessons learned about aeronautics in the last 60 years,” said Bill George, the former chief executive of Medtronic and an executive fellow at Harvard Business School who has written two case studies on Boeing. Mr. Calhoun has said that Boeing would not deliver its next all-new aircraft until the mid-2030s.


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