Corporate Failure

I watched the documentary on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 last night. It’s on Prime[1]. Called Flight/Risk. It starts with the launch of the new aircraft and ends as the aircraft returns to service and the consequences of the disaster that are still rippling through aviation. Seattle Times journalist, Dominic Gates appears frequently. His perspective is one that I was reading as the accidents and following events unfolded.

It’s a well-made production. I my view it focuses too much on whistle-blowers and too little on the appalling design errors made in certifying the aircraft. However, I can understand the choices made by the film makers. It’s primarily aimed at a public audience and not technical experts.  

This was a massive and fatal corporate failure. My recollections of working with Boeing in Seattle, in the mid-1990s are that such events could never have occurred in that era. It was a preeminent engineering company, with a proud heritage and safety was as important as the blood that flows through our veins. What happened in this last decade is beyond shocking.

Now, corrective action is being taken. Efforts are being made to re-establish an effective safety culture. All over the world technical experts have securitised the modified Boeing 737 MAX to the n-th degree. The company expects the Boeing 737 MAX 7 will be certified by the end of the year and the larger MAX 10 in the first half next year.

What is regretful is how long the design and manufacturing industries resisted the introduction of Safety Management Systems (SMS). I remember doing presentations to industry on that subject more than 2-decades ago.

So, what does a bad corporate and safety culture look like? We must recognise it, and not ignore the signs. What concerns me is, however much we have learned from the Boeing 737 MAX saga; it will soon be forgotten. Pasted over like wallpaper.

As if to give me an illustration, I was standing in a high street shop, browsing sale items in the normal way. It’s always nice to pick up a bargain. Even though it was a busy Saturday afternoon, there wasn’t many people in the shop. Behind me, were two store employees chatting away. They didn’t pay much attention to me until they had finished. They were close enough for me to hear most of what they were saying. One of them was the store manager.

Basically, they were having a whinge about the company that owned the shop. One key aspect was the waste of time, as they saw it, of being sent on company training courses where expensive consultants rabbited on to them about matters that were totally irrelevant to their day-to-day business. They blamed the corporate management. They haven’t got a clue, and it’s getting worse was the gist of the chat. They both expressed love of their jobs. It was a cry of desperation and frustration as they feared the company was on the road to go bust.

I guess that’s it. When little, or no communication exists between shop floor, literally in this case, and corporate management then that’s a big indicator of grave troubles ahead.


[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flight-Risk-Karim-Amer/dp/B0B5K615MZ

70s

There are echoes of the past in what’s happening now. One of these echoes is the exclamation that it’s getting more and more like the seventies. It’s a reaction to the turbulence and uncertainty that is all around. Especially when the spectre of inflation and recession is looming over us.

It’s easy to have mixed feelings about that decade. It can be said that the sixties were more revolutionary when it comes to the explosion of progressive attitudes and societal change.

The seventies weren’t a homogeneous period. In Britain, those turbulent 10-years culminated in a major political transformation as Thatcherism kicked-off in 1979. Romanising the seventies is foolish. That’s particularly the case when drawing comparisons between the here and now.

Life expectancy is one indicator[1]. The enormous improvement since the 70s is self-evident. What’s concerning about the situation is being put in jeopardy by a considerable slowing in these figures in recent years.

This chimes with lived experience. I remember pubs so full of smoke that the walls were stained, and a fog hung over the bar. Health and Safety legislation too. Car seatbelts and motorcycle crash helmets all helped reduce early fatalities. Workplaces have improved dramatically. Shivers run down my spin when I consider some of the toxic chemicals that were used in engineering and agriculture.

No way should anyone sane want to go back to the full 70s experience. That’s not to say there are cultural highlights that made a positive contribution to life in the UK. Punk rock coinciding with the Queen’s jubilee created a world of colour and vitality that has been lacking in the 202os.

Star Wars fans will no doubt cite Star Wars. There were some dam good movies made in the 70s. I’m seeing the mirror ball rotating, as the music from Saturday Night Fever rings in my ears.

On the technology side it was the time when the ground was broken. Microsoft and Apple own their success to the availability of early digital “chips”. A degree of that came from the strides made as the Apollo programme forced the advancement of digital technology. The Cold War played its part too.

On a personal note, motorcycles played a pivotal role in my decade. Growing up in a rural community the importance of mobility cannot be undenied. It was fun. It was freedom. It was exciting. I’d watch, and sometime marshal at road racing, grass track and motocross meetings[2]. I’m only here because a mate pulled me out of the path of an oncoming Laverda[3] side car outfit at a grass track meeting near Mere.

From 1970, to the day 1980 arrived much changed. Summing it up there were better times ahead.

POST: There were better cars ahead too. But I still have affection for my bright red Sunbeam Imp Not a Mini but a Sunbeam Imp | Articles | Classic Motorsports


[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/datasets/nationallifetablesunitedkingdomreferencetables

[2] https://www.acu.org.uk/

[3] https://laverda.club/

West Side Story – PROM 39

My 5th BBC PROM for the year turned out to be an absolute sensation.  PROM number 39 was the John Wilson Orchestra performing Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

Luckily, I got one of the limited number of promming tickets that went on sale at 9 on Saturday morning.  I was standing in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall on the west side, naturally enough.  To a packed Albert Hall, the performance kicked-off at 8 pm.

Ross Lekites took the part of Tony.   Mikaela Bennett was Maria.  The two were perfectly matched.  There was back-up from an ensemble of London theatre school students all dressed in white tee shirts.

Last night was a rare presentation of the theatre score as an authorised concert version.   This does compress the story considerably.  In fact, the evening ends abruptly as Tony is suddenly shot.  This wasn’t about dance or detailed stories  but about the fantastic songs and the wonderful music.  For a couple of hours, the Albert Hall became Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the 1950s.

Oddly contemporary, racial animosity and gang warfare aren’t something that was left in the 50s and 60s.  Although this was a hugely uplifting performance, the story is one of tragedy.  A tragedy like the gangs and hideous knife crime of these times.

I remember snippets of the film of West Side Story.  The film followed the the shows success in 1961, so that’s been around nearly as many years as I have.  It was a film that was part of the Sunday TV matinees of my childhood.

The musical plays on the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Its themes will remain popular for as long as there’s youth, conflict, innocence and love.  Every song is memorable.  Only a heart of stone would not be moved by moments of the plot.  Last evening ended all too soon.  A special moment in time.  A BBC PROM that we can be thankful made it on to this year’s calendar.