Motivating Others Keeps Careers Alive

Former Boeing CEO calls for management education that forces students to think across functional disciplines and hone critical thinking skills.

February 01, 1997

Understanding the human side of management and developing the ability to positively influence others are key elements in determining business success, said Frank Shrontz, Sloan ‘70, the quietly effective leader of the Boeing Company for over a decade and the 1997 Arbuckle Award winner.

“I’ve seen many outstanding functional performers at Boeing, particularly engineers, peak out two-thirds of the way through their careers because they lack the skills to motivate others,” Shrontz said at the award ceremony in March. Shrontz rejects the idea, however, that one particular leadership style is essential for success. “How else can you explain a quiet, legal type running a high-technology company?” asked Shrontz, who earned a law degree from the University of Idaho.

A Boeing man for most of his life, Shrontz joined the firm in 1958, taking his only leave in 1973 to serve three and one-half years as assistant secretary of the Air Force and later of the U.S. Defense Department. In 1985, Shrontz became president of the firm, the world’s leading jetliner manufacturer. He became CEO in 1986 and chairman of the board in 1988. He stepped down in 1996.

Over the years, Boeing has been credited for helping improve the U.S. balance of payments and criticized for its effect on the economy of Washington’s Puget Sound area when business downturns occasionally forced layoffs. Today, spurred by the fuel-efficient 777 model, developed on Shrontz’s watch, Boeing has a backlog of orders.

Accepting the award, Shrontz urged business leaders to not shy away from taking risks and to recognize the value of continuous process improvement. He also called for management education that forces young managers to think across functional disciplines, hones logical thinking skills, and teaches strategic thinking skills.

“At Boeing, we can identify a number of good leaders to run the company operations on a current basis. It’s much more difficult to identify executives with ability or even the desire to think about the opportunities and challenges 20 years out. Yet strategic thinking is probably where senior leaders can make the greatest contribution in both the profit and nonprofit areas,” he said.

Shrontz is concerned about the ability of KА12 public school systems in the United States to “meet the demands of the increasingly sophisticated design and production processes being put in place by American industry.” Improving KА12 public education is key to the country’s success, he said. “There is no more critical effort to ensure our future.

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