A wrenching downturn followed Boeing CEO Phil Condit's move of company headquarters to Chicago six years ago this month.
A wrenching downturn followed Boeing CEO Phil Condit’s move of company headquarters to Chicago six years ago this month.
The company cut 42,000 jobs the following three years as the industry plummeted after the Sept. 11 attacks, profits fell by more than 80 percent and its reputation was ripped by ethics scandals.
Amid this turmoil, Boeing privately published a glossy book celebrating its “sumptuous” new offices. It had outfitted the Office of the Chairman atop its Windy City building with finery befitting a robber-baron mansion — ornate leather-and-wood executive suites, 19th-century Persian rugs and decorations that included a French barometer from the 1700s.
The 128-page “Boeing World Headquarters” is now a bit of history, because much of that top-floor décor was swept out by new chairman and CEO James McNerney. The 2003 book is not publicly available, but recently a copy was provided to The Seattle Times by a critical stockholder.
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The volume offers a glimpse into an inner sanctum quite different from the shiny but fairly utilitarian Boeing corporate offices that visitors usually see. The white columns and inlaid wood floor look borrowed from Monticello. A page labeled “Lavatory detail — office of the chairman” — shows gilt faucets, tastefully framed art and a glass holding five white roses next to a sink. Other pages offer close-ups of various antiques and Oriental rugs, as well as reproductions of the headquarters’ art collections and some pictures of the more ordinary offices on the remaining 11 floors.
The prose is brief but high-flown. “In keeping with the formal design scheme, artwork and furnishings on the executive level are elegant, graceful and sumptuous,” reads one passage. “Antique furniture and rugs are a nod to the long heritage of our company and a symbol of the promise that Boeing is here to stay. The gleaming surfaces of fine-art glass ornaments and objets d’art contrast with the ornate figures in the Oriental rugs and upholstery fabrics. The overall impression is one of graciousness and warmth.”
Elsewhere, the book quotes Condit lauding the company’s transformation with “a leaner headquarters.”
About 1,000 copies of the book were printed, primarily as a gift to contractors and employees who worked on the hurried makeover before Boeing moved in, says John Dern, the company’s vice president of public relations.
Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and associate editor of the journal Corporate Reputation Review, says such an elaborate homage to the headquarters sounds like “the syndrome of an executive who was filled with hubris and thought it didn’t really matter what he did … It’s not that different from the $6,000 shower curtain.”
While it’s a natural impulse for CEOs to commemorate what they consider important steps in company history, Argenti says, “There should have been a countervailing force that said, ‘How is this going to be perceived?’ “
As for memorializing history, it’s a good thing the book has that picture of the floor near the office of the chairman. Along with the fancy nomenclature of “world headquarters,” much of the top floor’s look was replaced after McNerney assumed the post in 2005.
The new chairman wanted “a more functional, businesslike environment,” Dern says, “A lot of what you see in the book has either been donated to museums or other collections for public viewing.”
The new look will not be commemorated in a book.
To get rich is glorious, and so is Medina
When a business delegation from China visits a business group in Seattle, a lot of men in dark suits might be expected.
But last week an unusual Chinese group came through town: female entrepreneurs who are blazing a trail in a country where the odds are often not in their favor.
Led by Madam Feng Cui, president of the Chinese Association of Women Entrepreneurs and former deputy chief of China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, the eight women attended a reception in the waterfront Medina home of local businesswoman Laurie McDonald Jonsson. It was a reunion for some of them, who met in China last year during a trip Jonsson organized for Stellar International Networks, a leadership group for women.
A few of the Chinese women were visiting the U.S. for the first time. As successful as they’ve become in the new capitalist China, they were clearly in awe of the home and the location — just down the street from Bill Gates. Quipped one local participant: “I hope they don’t think all Americans have homes like this.”
Group members exchanged business cards, posed for pictures and chatted informally for several hours with their U.S. counterparts — local lawyers, doctors, company executives, academics and others interested in making professional connections and friendships in China.
The visitors included Li Xiao Yan, the young general manager of Beijing Jingcheng Yanda Technology and Trade, a company specializing in energy conservation and management that she founded in Beijing. Li was looking for U.S. partners to provide energy technology products to China.
Another visitor, Li Daxiang, chair of Beijing Leitianxiang International Education and Culture Exchange, said she was eager to meet Americans interested in exchange programs with China.
Several said establishing friendships between American and Chinese women could build goodwill at a time when relations between their two countries are strained.
— Kristi Heim
Tully’s lets you
post a big ShoutOut
For a buck, you can now post a message for your pals to see on a large flat-panel TV at a local espresso shop. Do it from home in pajamas, if you wish.
About 80 Tully’s Coffee locations have been outfitted in recent weeks with screens provided by Ripple Networks. The ShoutOut messaging service, debuting in Tully’s and the Los Angeles-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain, alternates on the screens with sports and entertainment news, local traffic, and both local and national advertising. The message plays over several hours and can be scheduled to coincide with the recipient’s habitual latte run.
Just don’t confuse this with your MySpace page — there will be no off-color or off-message postings. That means nothing about your pal’s mother, and nothing about Starbucks.
“We have multitiered defense systems” against inappropriate postings, says Ripple founder Alex Nocifera. A human looks at each posting, he says, “and we’re turning down quite a few.”