ResearchThe Weekly (5/3)

The Weekly (5/3)

May 3, 2024

Boeing is in a nosedive. 

The aerospace giant is searching for a new CEO and its stock is down ~30% year-to-date, not to mention the Herculean task at hand: cultural transformation for a company with 170,000 employees, half of them engineers.

Commercial aviation's safety record is mind-blowing. Millions fly daily with near-zero incidents. This magic isn't alchemy; it's meticulous engineering, quality control, and procedures – all fueled by a culture that religiously upholds them. 

Boeing's culture seems to have gone rogue, as emergency landings and engineering malfunctions are now plaguing headlines. The company is in disarray.

It could be argued that results we’re seeing today are a direct result of the industry’s duopolistic nature.

By definition, a duopoly can be described as a competitive environment where two companies together own all, or nearly all, of the market for a given product or service. In aviation, duopoly is the status quo, as Airbus and Boeing have dominated the skies for generations. When there is insufficient competition, dominant firms can use their market power to charge higher prices, offer decreased quality, and block potential competitors from entering the market.

But what has gone wrong, and can it be fixed?

The past two decades saw Boeing morph from engineering-driven to a business-results machine. Harry Stonecipher, CEO in the early 2000s, famously said he aimed to run Boeing "like a business rather than a great engineering firm." His successor, James McNerney, doubled down: "Every 25 years a moonshot… and then a 707 or 787? That's wrong."

That change in culture could be in part to their duopolistic positioning: stifling innovation for the sake of slow but steady price increases and increasing shareholder value. Those decisions compound and are now directly flowing through to their planes.

Shareholder value isn't the enemy of safety and a great product, but it also can't come at the expense of passengers’ protection. 

For context, the last new Boeing plane, the 787, launched two decades ago. The 737? Designed over 50 years ago. This incremental improvement strategy might be convenient for the bottom line, but it's ultimately unsustainable. This demotivates employees who dream of building cutting-edge marvels, not tinkering with relics.

Can it be fixed? Absolutely.

A new CEO has the opportunity to reset the culture as being a center for innovation – championing creative thought and supporting a workforce that was once revered as the crown jewel of American ingenuity.

But true cultural change won’t come without bold action, and what’s bolder than proposing a true zero-emission airplane? 

Instead of hiding behind carbon offsets and ‘sustainable’ fuels, the company can once again embrace innovation and promise a mockup of an electric alternative in the same timeframe it took to land a man on the moon (Boeing played a big part in that, by the way). The employees will love it, and they'll likely deliver.

If the industry’s magic is directly correlated with an unrelenting culture, like we outlined above, then a reset may be one of the only options to survive. That type of culture is established at the top which makes the new CEO hire even more important.

What’s certain is that a pivot of this magnitude requires a departure from duopolistic thinking. Competition is one of the best sources for innovation, and it’s clear that an industry that lacks competition is reeling.

Boeing needs to get it together and look inwards, or else the case study for duopoly may turn into a monopoly.

Have a great weekend,

– Your Titan team


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