Boeing moving headquarters to Virginia

Dominic Gates

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

An announcement is expected as soon as today.

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

With Boeing suffering from a seemingly endless parade of troubles that have sunk the company’s fortunes in the past three years since the two 737 MAX crashes, a few industry voices had called for Boeing to move back to Seattle to help restore its culture.

Instead, the shift to DC is intended to move the top leadership close to key government officials and lawmakers in the nation’s capital.

That’s the location of Boeing’s major customer on the defense side: the Pentagon.

And following the tightening of government safety oversight following the MAX crashes, the commercial airplanes division increasingly must work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration leadership in DC and with lawmakers in the US House and Senate.

A Boeing spokesperson had no immediate comment.

The decision to leave Chicago after 21 years makes clear that move in 2001 has proven a major flop.

There was never any real rationale for choosing Chicago that made sense for the company’s business. Boeing’s then-CEO Phil Condit and its president, Harry Stonecipher, explicitly said at the time they wanted the headquarters relocated to a city set apart from any of its main business units.

Chicago won because it appealed to their egos as a major city of commerce with a macho, steakhouse culture for executives. The city’s offer of as much as $20 million in tax incentives sealed the decision.

The new headquarters quickly was seen as an ivory tower, separated from the realities and complexities of the work that produced the airplanes and the technology that determined the company’s fate.

The skyscraper location in downtown Chicago was also a corporate aerie that separated the top executives from their employees. Many in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere grew alienated by cold decisions about their lives made from afar without much apparent concern about the consequences for individuals.

With the real work of building aerospace products done elsewhere around the country, only a few hundred people were ever located in Chicago — the top leadership and their administrative staff.

With the succession of missteps by Boeing’s leadership in the past three years that distance from reality began to look increasingly untenable.

The decision to move was no doubt made easier by the restrictions of the COVID pandemic.

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

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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