I am writing this after spending a few hours at the main Boeing Factory in Seattle….
All I can say is that, “No One – not even the Entrepreneur can imagine HOW BIG her business can become!”
Want to know what is BIG?
– The Boeing factory is the LARGEST commercial building in the world.
It occupies 1.5 CRORE square feet. It can accommodate Disneyland + have 22 acres of parking. It has seven doors to the factory departments – each door’s entrance is the size of a US football field.
The Company has its own Runway, the world’s largest fire corporate fire department, etc etc.. Boeing’s operations is the BIG of BIG!
Lesson 1 – When an Entrepreneur WANTS something BADLY – he GETS IT.
The last time I was in Seattle, I flew in the famous Sea Plane that takes you for a spin around the city and then lands in the water. It was a mini airplane, and honestly I was nervous as hell. I had the seat right next to the Pilot (like a co-passenger in a car) and I just felt that the door would open anytime…!
We were told today that the Founder of Boeing – Mr. Bill Boeing saw a Sea Plane in the lakes of Seattle in the early 1900s (he was a timber merchant) and wanted to go for a ride in it. The pilot made him peep inside the plane and showed him that unfortunately, there was only one seat and hence that was not possible.
Bill Boeing tried again with another pilot – only to be refused.
He then finally flew SITTING ON THE WING of a plane, strapped safely with a harness, etc etc – but FLEW HE DID.
Almost immediately later he decided he wanted to MAKE PLANES!
When I heard the story – I chuckled and thought that almost 90 years after the ride Bill Boeing took, I had undergone the same situation and had ridden the plane very safely; but NEVER even once did I think of BUILDING the machine I was riding…!!
The lesson is not about wanting to build airplanes. It’s about marveling at things WE LIKE, DON’T HAVE and then making them HAPPEN.
Lesson 2 – Build a great Product. Orders and Demand will come!
Bill Boeing’s first order came from New Zealand – after the US Air Force declined to buy the plane!
After Bill Boeing went to the US Air Force to sell his planes and they had refused – then he went to the US Mail and convinced them that the Airplane would deliver America’s mails faster…
They bought the idea and Boeing had a great business invented thanks to his plane.
The driver who was shepherding us around joked and said, “Bill Boeing later had another idea… he thought, ‘If I can deliver Mails, I can deliver Females’ and hence decided to launch a passenger service that did just that!!”
Later, the USA Air Force DID buy Boeing Planes. In fact since the planes were superior to others, the air force pilots in fear of their safety began to chant, “If it ain’t Boeing – I ain’t goin!!”
I think the only obsession an Entrepreneur must have is to make her product something some people can NEVER LIVE WITHOUT. The rest will take care of itself…
Lesson 3 – Don’t get Disheartened!!
Bill Boeing was summoned by the Politicians at Washington after a few years of his success and told that the government would be forced to break down his Company into 3 pieces (Mail, Airline and Plane Building) because it had the contours of a Monopoly.
The government broke the Company down and in turn broke Bill Boeing’s heart.
He went on to SELL all his shares in the business and had no commercial interest in Boeing from that day on…
What a pity. Imagine NOT owning an Airline or Mail service would anyway have been a blessing in disguise!
Sometimes, really bad months or years take a real toll on the entrepreneur and the worst four letter word – ‘QUIT’ sometimes takes over. We have to resist it.
Lesson 4 – LUCK HAPPENS
This is an amazing story.
One the key Test Pilots of Boeing – a chap called Tex Johnson was flying a new plane over Seattle, when he realized that it was the annual Air Show in Seattle, in which leading decision makers of the world in the field of Aviation had assembled.
Tex Johnson took his new Boeing Plane over the lake and ACTUALLY DID A DOUBLE BARREL ROLL with a mighty airplane over the heads of stunned onlookers!
The massive crowd was shell shocked.
On the Monday that followed, Tex Johnson was called into the CEO’s room and given a big dressing down. When asked, what the HELL he thought he was doing, he replied, “I thought that I was just selling Airplanes…”
In the next few weeks, Boeing got orders for 200 PLANES – thanks to that massive visibility and actual demonstration of the strength of the plane.
Tex Johnson retained his job and the rest we know is History.
Lesson 5 – Massive Innovation is required all the time.
From the galleys above, we saw the REAL factory floors of the 747, 757, 767 and 787 airplanes and each and every one of them in production!
The assembly methodology of each progressive model of Boeing planes had gotten better – from one plane being built at a time to planes in an assembly that was pulse based (moved from time to time) to assemblies that moved ON THEIR OWN!
If I remember correctly, the 767’s assembly was automatically moving forward 1.6 inches ahead every minute – forcing all the teams to complete the work as it ‘sped’ forward!
And on the point of assembly – the existing planes that were being delivered had their parts come to the Boeing Factory in bits and pieces to be together in a few months.
However, the 787 was engineered totally as a LEGO type ‘snap and fit’ design and could be assembled in 3 days FLAT!!!
I still cannot believe 3 days…! (note that it still takes years to make the parts)
Moving on to material… the new composite material being used by Boeing 787 is so strong that some of Boeing’s old testing equipment faces the risk of breaking down itself rather than breaking down the parts it is supposed to test. The new material is lighter than Aluminium and because it does not CORRODE easily – more HUMIDITY can be issued in the airplane – making it more comfortable for us!
I never thought that humidity in a plane was controlled by the airplane and airline guys to make the plane last longer (and in turn giving us nice jet lag and dehydration).
My point is that entrepreneurs HAVE TO BE RELENTLESS in their pursuit of perfection and almost reversing the old saying by saying, ‘EVEN IF IT AIN’T BROKE – LET’S FIX IT’
Lesson 6 – CLEVER marketing is GOOD Marketing.
The US Government allotted the Series ‘700’ to Boeing for its airplanes.
Logically, the first plane should have therefore been Boeing 700.
Instead it was the Boeing 707.
‘Coz the Boeing Marketing team felt that 700 was too Vanilla and 707 sounded cool!
Well, 50 years ago that was really CLEVER marketing!!
Even this tour experience was nothing short of some amazing VIRAL marketing. Imagine – I paid 65$ for the trip and dedicated 4 hours to it and now I am penning one of the most exhaustive blogs I have written – dedicated to BOEING!
The tour ended IN the gift shop – impulsively making us buy Boeing memorabilia to take the story home and further.The Driver and Conductor asked us to tell our travel agency next time (and here they chanted) – “IF IT AIN’T BOEING – WE AIN’T GOING!!”
If the driver of a Boeing factory can be so committed in marketing his brand, so can entrepreneurs. Always remember that advertising via money is for the lazy and dumb. Think of your 707 strategy instead!
Lesson 7 – Massive Commitment is EVERYTHING.
As we sped back, the driver of the bus pointed out lots of private cars parked RIGHT OUTSIDE the Boeing Factory gates.
He mentioned that in order to be able to simply drive into work and park in front of the main factory buildings all you needed was one criteria – you needed be working at Boeing for 25+ years!!!
Counting the cars on a Sunday, I really understood that it takes a NATION OF COMMITTED people to make something significant happen – starting with the Entrepreneur taking POLE POSITION!
First Published on: Jul 18, 2011