My check—in at the Marriott (now Marriott Bonvoy) went quickly. The women at the desk were friendly and the lobby, as for all Marriott hotels, attractive. I had ten minutes to find the elevator, locate my room, change quickly, and meet my board colleague to discuss the management team’s proposed 2020 plan. Simple.
Nevertheless, I was ten minutes late.
Opening the door to my assigned room, I was surprised to see breath mints on the first cabinet top I encountered, my go—to place to keep my keys in any hotel. “Nice add, Marriott,” I thought at first. Then I saw a coat draped over a chair, an open suitcase on the floor, and a bathroom that looked, shall we say, used?
The room’s guest (the appropriate one, not me with an identical key) was gone. Lucky for her, I am not a thief. Lucky for me, she was not he, who was getting dressed, nor a reactive man with a gun. Walking back to the concierge desk, I imagined all the other possible humorous and dangerous outcomes.
Each business has to get one or at most a handful of things right. Period. Profits come next. Marriot cannot double book rooms. Beds must be comfy, rooms clean, and ideally quiet. All the rest — the friendliness of check-in, quality of the website, the décor’s stylishness, and quality of morning coffee and bar wine — are ingredients of branding. But the essential few enable a brand to have a chance. Marriot’s software system misguided my check-in server, leading her to get an essential thing wrong.
Which leads me to Boeing. Boeing and Airbus have to get ONE thing right: preventing plane accidents. Profits emerge from scale, efficiency, reputation, core competencies, and innovation. But we trust — or at least we did trust — Boeing enough to step into their planes because they stay in the air and land safely close to 100% of the time. Airline customers shared our faith. That’s why they buy Boeing planes for their fleets. Startups are not successful in this market space.
Nevertheless, two revised-model Boeing planes went down, killing all on board. The cost to Boeing includes liability, reputational damage, lost orders, and lowered valuation. There is also the executive downgrade (from Executive Board Chair/CEO to CEO) for the CEO, who may still lose his job after throwing his experienced commercial divisional president under the bus. There is also lost airline customer and traveler trust.
The cause was not a natural disaster. Instead, it was a software glitch coupled with a decision to delete a secondary sensor (part of a redundant back-up which proved anything but unnecessary). Inaccurate information led pilots to misjudge a situation and become unable to prevent a software system-induced fast fall. That’s the surface explanation in a nutshell.
The root cause is placing profits before no lives lost. In no small measure, Boeing lobbied Congress to regulate itself. In control of its oversight, Boeing miscast the design change to avoid mandatory pilot training, ignored pleas of a test pilot, hurried an already hurried schedule, and failed to understand the cause of the initial crash.
Thoughts? They might be as simple as saying, “Boeing got what it deserved.” That’s an acceptable conclusion were there no human consequences. But there were layers of human suffering: the close to 350 deceased, their families, Boeing workers and suppliers, Seattle, and Boeing shareholders.
Many will argue that hindsight is always right, and, at the time, Boeing was doing what it thought was right. Wrong. Boeing eliminated a redundant sensor that would have signaled a data issue and precluded the software from causing a nosedive. System redundancy had been in place through the years at Boeing, leading pilots to love the Boeing brand. They could ALWAYS take over the flight. (Remember Scully who landed on a river?) Not anymore, unless they somehow intuited the sensor data was incorrect and understood how the new software worked.
Bank boards got it wrong in the 2008 financial crash. The one thing that bank boards had to get right was to assess risk and make sure banks did not run out of money or do anything illegal. Yet the lending portfolio of many banks included mortgages that held value only if housing prices kept rising or stayed flat. Prices fell significantly and the rest is history.
Pain medication manufacturers and distributors had to make sure they do not kill anyone. They got that wrong. Every day, 130 people die in the US from overdosing on opioids. Add in suicides, crime, treatment, and lost productivity, and we have a high national bill in both dollars and tears. My husband thinks these leaders should be charged criminally with murder. He has a point.
Few of my readers and other business leaders will become high profile cases. But trust built over the years can be lost for any business, and that loss of confidence is costly.
Know your “must get it right” list and never put any other aim — including nearterm profits — before items on the list. Don’t be penny-wise and pound- (or life-) foolish.