Boeing’s exit: Don’t let the door hit you in the ...
The Boeing Co. isn’t the first sharpie to show up in Chicago with a smooth patter and a suitcase filled with dreams to end up slinking out of town on a Greyhound bus.
Their departure is supposed to be some kind of insult. But remember who Boeing is. A fine piece Friday in the Sun-Times detailed Boeing’s departure. It mentioned their $1.2 billion first quarter loss but politely sidestepped the 737 Max disaster.
Remember? Boeing engineers tried modernizing an old plane design by spitting on their thumbs and smudging the computer code, ending up with some horrific glitch that sent one plane powering into the ground, killing 189 passengers. Sending Boeing into spasms of inertia and blame offloading for five, count ’em, five months until the same thing happened again, killing another 157 people, at which point Boeing mumbled, “Umm, yeah, well, OK maybe there’s a problem here ...”
Not the company we want to keep. Given the blundering that Boeing embodies, who can even pretend their nesting here is some kind of civic adornment? Of course they prefer to be near Washington, D.C., close to the regulators and Justice Department officials who will be harrying them into eternity. Or should be.
Some of the 500 jobs at Boeing’s headquarters were lost in the pandemic, and some might stay when the headquarters moves. But even if they all vanished, 500 jobs is chicken feed. That’s one big law firm. Sidley Austin has almost 500 attorneys. Plus another 500 support staff. Status and number of employees do not go hand in hand.
Any idea who the biggest employer in Chicago is? You’ve got it: the federal government. Necessary, but nobody is thumping their chests saying “Chicago’s got 3,800 mail carriers ...”
Does anybody even care anymore what companies are headquartered here? Excepting the company they actually work for, and maybe not even that, now that we’ve become unmoored from our places of employment. When Bally snagged the Chicago casino, did anybody other than me think, “Oh, that’s so cool, because Bally is headquartered right here, in Chicago, where it was founded in 1932 ...”
OK, maybe Boeing leaving is a little personal for me. They had a fun little corporate shop, The Boeing Store, at the base of 100 N. Riverside Plaza, just the place to get cool airplane swag for two growing boys.
And Boeing’s arrival here is etched in my mind, because I just joined the editorial board in 2001. I remember when Chicago was vying with Dallas and Denver. We were so delighted. I wrote the preening, unsigned editorial ... let me see if I can dig it up. Talk among yourselves.
There it is, May 11, 2001: “Ever so humble, no place like here,” a chest-thumping brag in the fine tradition of Windy City boosterism. “With all due respect to Dallas and Denver, Chicago is so much better a place than either of them that we just don’t know where to begin,” I wrote. “Let’s talk culture. You could combine both those cities, and throw in a couple Seattles and Pittsburghs while you’re at it, and you still wouldn’t come close to our theater, opera, symphony, jazz, blues and other music scenes.”
A work of jaw-dropping naivete, now that I re-read it. As if those Boeing executives, after a long day of ignoring warnings from their engineers, then lit out for music of the Baroque. Still, I couldn’t resist mocking the losers. “Dallas’ skyline looks like something a kid built out of Tinker Toys; Denver doesn’t really have a skyline in the usual sense of the word.”
I remember being awed that ran in an editorial. I still am, kinda. The paper got a letter that found its way to my desk. A woman asked how a newspaper that carries such fine writers as Roger Ebert and Neil Steinberg could publish such juvenile garbage?
I couldn’t help writing back: “I’ve been praised and I’ve been damned, but never before in the same breath about the same story.”
Even if Boeing’s exit leaves a hole in Chicago’s heart, it can be filled. In its place let’s put ... Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The giant architecture firm. SOM also has 500 local employees, some of whom designed the half-mile-tall Burj Khalifi, which didn’t fall over due to design flaws.
Credit to Boeing, though, for inflicting their own punishment: exile. The wicked flee when no man pursues.