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High-tech diversification encountered turbulence
Behind Boeing's move out of Seattle was then-CEO Phil Condit's vision of a bigger Boeing. He painted the headquarters shift as a way to underscore the company's move from the nuts and bolts of building airplanes into a broader array of high-tech businesses.
Condit had swallowed McDonnell Douglas' military business, and Hughes' satellite and Rockwell's space operations.
After a rocky, scandal-ridden transition that led to Condit's departure, the merger mania has borne some fruit. Yet Boeing remains the sum of very disparate parts, and the high-tech dreams remain unfulfilled.
"We Washingtonians have been a little provincial," said John Warner, Condit's right-hand man who led the headquarters move.
"The name of Boeing started here, but remember McDonnell, Douglas, Hughes, Rockwell — all of those companies and the history associated with those names are now Boeing. They are just as Boeing as Alan Mulally is Boeing.
"This is a new world," Warner said. "This is a bigger company ... and it's playing in the global marketplace."
In 2004, Boeing won a huge U.S. Navy contract to build anti-submarine aircraft based on the 737 airframe. A blend of commercial and military expertise, it was diversified Boeing's first big success.
Yet the new Boeing is still chasing Condit's wildest high-tech dreams.
A sophisticated system for managing air traffic: shelved.
A classified multibillion-dollar spy-satellite program: dramatically downgraded.
The space business: still waiting for liftoff.
Boeing Vice President Bob Watt said it will take 10 years to tell if Condit's strategy has worked out.
Meanwhile, the most successful part of Boeing right now remains building airliners.
Dominic Gates, Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company