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Intimate(?) Side Of The Boeing Chairman (NYT)

Thu Apr 26, 2001 2:20 am

This is an article on Boeing Chairman & CEO Phil Condit in his own words.

The Boss: The Discovery of Flying Solo

New York Times 04/25/01
author: Amy Zipkin

My mother's father was fascinated with the
world and wanted to share. When I was 12,
he sent the family to Oslo to see an eclipse
of the sun. A year later, the day my aunt got
married, we went to the San Carlos airport
south of San Francisco so he could take a
free flying lesson. My grandmother looked at
my grandfather and said, "James Murray
Kemp, how could you possibly do this on
this day." He said, "What better day to do
this?" He learned to fly at age 60.

When I decided I wanted to learn how, my
parents encouraged me. Money was never
free, but if you worked you got paid for it.
Where we lived was all pear orchards. I
split wood and picked pears, 50 cents for a
50-pound wooden lug. I got my license at
17. The first part of my first solo flight was
perfect. I did one touch-and-go landing without any problems. On the
second one, there was more crosswind blowing. I had to abort. Then I was
reasonably scared. I had to talk myself through it. I began hearing my
instructor, "Push a little on the rudder pedal, hold it straight and then you
land." The third one went fine. It's the process of discovery that you can do
something on your own and if something goes wrong you can get out of it.

I need to be outside in the forest, or mountains, away from the crowd. My
first camping trip, I was 2 years old. My dad rigged a car seat on a pack
frame. Once, my best friend and I did a survival ordeal. We went camping
with my parents in the Sierras. We decided we'd take a sleeping bag,
fishhook, fish line and knife and go off by ourselves about five miles from
my parents' camp. We cut willow branches to make fishing rods, but they
were way too bendy. We tried branches and then tried catching fish hand
over hand with the line. We were gone about three days. It wasn't how we
imagined it. We thought we'd be able to catch fish more easily. But we had
the self- confidence to take care of ourselves.

I spent six years becoming an engineer. At Princeton some faculty urged me
to stay and take a Ph.D. But my adviser said, "You need to make things."
He was telling me to get out. I went to work at Boeing. Early in my career I
was offered a job in marketing. My boss's boss's boss called me into his
office and said, "If you leave engineering, you'll never be allowed back."
That was 30 years ago. The company was going from 150,000 down to
50,000 people. If I'd had any intelligence at all the last thing I'd do would
be to change jobs during a downgrade. But that's what I did.

I got my Ph.D. in Japan, and it wasn't an honorary one. It took me eight
years. I met the six-month residency requirement by adding all the trips I
made to Japan. My thesis was based on a retrospective of my papers and
speeches, a record of the engineering and the aviation industry and career
management of the process. The thesis weighs about seven pounds. Before
I could defend it, I had to redo all my diagrams. They were too small.
Seven professors questioned me for three hours. I had a 20-minute public
defense in front of students.

The fascinating part was the cultural elements of the process. Almost all
Japanese worry that Westerners won't be comfortable with Japanese
facilities like showering with a stool and bucket and spray. That's part of
the understanding.

I enjoy a lot of things. Most of them are pretty simple. I really enjoy a good
Japanese garden. It's extremely peaceful. I love being there. I like nothing
better than to walk with my wife watching a sunset. The beauty is
absolutely amazing.