Boeing moves headquarters to Virginia

Dominic Gates

The Seattle Times confirmed this morning, following a report in the Wall Street Journal, that Boeing is moving its headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, DC area.

An announcement is expected as soon as today.

Boeing’s move to Chicago in 2001 from its historic location in Seattle tore up the company’s legacy in the Pacific Northwest.

With Boeing suffering from a seemingly endless display of troubles that have swamped the company’s fortunes in the past three years since the 737 MAX crash, some industry voices have called on Boeing to return to Seattle to help restore its culture.

Instead, the shift to Washington, D.C. aims to bring the top leadership closer to senior government officials and lawmakers in the nation’s capital.

This is Boeing’s main customer on the defensive side: the Pentagon.

After tightening government oversight of safety in the wake of the Max crash, the Commercial Airplanes Division must work increasingly closely with the FAA’s leadership in the capital and with lawmakers in the US House and Senate.

There was no immediate comment from a Boeing spokesman.

The decision to leave Chicago after 21 years shows that the move in 2001 proved to be a major failure.

There was no real rationale for choosing Chicago that would make sense for the company’s business. Boeing’s then CEO, Phil Condit and its president, Harry Stonecipher, said explicitly at the time that they wanted to move the headquarters to a city separate from any of its main business units.

Chicago won because it appealed to their ego as a major business city with a macho steakhouse culture for executives. The city’s offer of up to $20 million in tax incentives closed the decision.

Soon the new headquarters was seen as an ivory tower, detached from the realities and intricacies of the work that produced the aircraft and the technology that determined the company’s fate.

The skyscraper site in downtown Chicago was also a cluster of companies that separated top CEOs from their employees. Many in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere grew up isolated by cold decisions about their lives made from afar without much obvious concern about the consequences for individuals.

With the real work of building aerospace products done elsewhere in the country, there were only a few hundred people in Chicago – the senior leadership and its administrative staff.

With Boeing’s leadership mistakes in the past three years, this detachment from reality is starting to look increasingly unacceptable.

There is no doubt that the decision to move was made easier due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID pandemic.

In addition to the huge impact on the company’s business, the headquarters building was left largely empty for two years as senior leadership worked from home and held virtual meetings.

This is an evolving story. Check again for updates.