What was it like to work with the young Alan Mulally at Boeing?
National Traffic Safety Board member Earl Weener, who was in Detroit last week meeting with automakers, spent his entire career at Boeing before retiring as the aircraft manufacturer's chief safety engineer in 1999.
While a young engineer in Seattle, Weener occupied the office next to Mulally, who many years later left Boeing to become Ford's CEO.
It was obvious to Weener that his colleague had a good head on his shoulders and was going places. For one thing, Mulally had a way with his bosses. Weener noticed that he frequently was absent from his office because he was giving tennis lessons to the company's CEO.
Weener recalled Mulally's philosophy as a manager: "He would say, "Tell me the bad news so I can help you work on the problem. If you keep it to yourself, you are the only one working on it.'"
Once, when Mulally was leading a major project with NASA in Langley, Va., Weener was assigned to crunch the data. For months, Weener would spend a week in Seattle and then two weeks in Langley.
When the project ended, an exhausted Weener told his boss as he headed home, "I'm going up to Vancouver to a place where you can't find me."
The following Saturday, Weener was relaxing with his wife at his secret location when the phone rang.
"I found you," Mulally said.
There was no emergency.
"He was just messing with me," Weener said.