Conversation with Brian Bauer

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The Business of Boeing

brian-bauer
Donovan Richards: Let’s begin by exploring your career trajectory, Brian. Could you tell us about your background?

Brian Bauer: Certainly. I graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree in 2001. From there, I began working at Boeing in a rotation program for leadership development. I spent the first two years of my career rotating from job to job every four months. During that time, I picked up different business disciplines, including financial accounting, contracts, financial analysis, cost management, and procurement analysis. You name it. I probably did it within that two-year timeframe.

Then I moved into a financial analysis position at a startup mobile Internet venture called Connexion. For about three years, I worked setting up pricing for new business models we had created for our executive and government services offering. I also helped negotiate contracts with satellite vendors and kept track of budgets and costs.

The business didn't take off like we thought it would, so the company shut it down and I had to look for a new position. One of my mentors said, "Hey, why don't you look at corporate audit?" Boeing wanted analysts who understood finance, liked to travel, and wanted to learn more about how the company operated. I decided to pursue that opportunity. The job kept me learning and tickled my curiosity. Every quarter, you got to learn about a new aspect of the business, which was a lot of fun for me. So I spent about a year-and-a-half in that position, just enough time to realize that I didn't like living on the road as much as I thought I would.

DR: After corporate audit, what was the next step?

BB: After corporate audit I returned to the world of new business and joined Boeing Commercial's Product Development team. Our department essentially looks at any new airplane that might be launched in the next five, 10, or 20 years. My financial analysis group works with the technical team and translates their designs into financial projections. We work with marketing to understand how many aircraft we expect to sell and what the value of the product will be, and we develop estimates of what it costs to bring all that together. All of that data goes into a financial model that measures the cash flow of that particular project. We also run risk analyses for any major project. Since launching a new airplane is such a big bet, we do a lot of analysis based on what we have seen in the past and assess risk for future projects accordingly.

JT: How many years do your projections go?

BB: Quite a few. I mean, we are in a long-term business. As you can imagine, we're not only thinking about what's coming over the next few years, but also much further out. Each product lifecycle extends quite a long way.

DR: How many analysts are on your team?

BB: I have six analysts on the team right now. And it's a great team. Some managers caution against leading the team that you came from, but I've really enjoyed working with them, and I know them well.

It's been a good transition, but also difficult in the ways you might expect. A lot of my job is working to focus our team on the right goals, dealing with challenges as they come up, and stepping into places of tension when I need to. Those situations build your courage and perseverance. You have to be willing to step into a place of confrontation and have a difficult conversation with either an employee or another team that's not providing support that you need.

JT: What do you love about the work you get to do every day?

BB: I love seeing my employees step into their ability and creativity, and do amazing work. I enjoy encouraging them, challenging them, and supporting them. Those are the things that get me excited. It's so gratifying to see people grow into who they are meant to be. And as a manager, you get that chance more often than when you were a coworker.

JT: What do you love about airplanes?

BB: I've loved aviation ever since I was a little kid. I remember going to the Museum of Flight, seeing Wright Brothers replicas and original Boeing airplanes, the machines made of wood and cloth, and I was captivated by the idea of human flight. It's still amazing to me that a couple of hundred years ago what was only a dream is now a daily occurrence. We fly across the world at the drop of the hat and think nothing of it.

As a little kid, astronauts and fighter pilots fascinated me. My walls were covered with airplane posters, and I had books about World War II aircraft. So it's kind of a natural fit that I would go into the aviation industry. I'm filled with pride whenever I see our products, especially new airplanes developed here in the commercial division. Over the last few years, I've seen a couple of airplanes take off from Paine Field for the first time. It’s a thrill to see one of our products take flight and know my team had some small part of making that project happen.

Models for Leadership

JT: You talked, previously, about stepping into tension. You talked about the human heart, the challenge, the opportunity, and the great privilege of working with people.

Who are your models for leadership? How do you think about leadership? Where do you turn to think and learn about leadership? What has sharpened your ability to lead others and to follow as well?

BB: Yeah, there are three main areas of learning and places to which I've turned. The first is previous managers, mentors, and people who have been in leadership positions. They can give me a good perspective on how to deal with difficult situations and conflict. I have also met local leaders through Seattle Pacific University's mentorship program. I've been fortunate enough to meet with a fantastic group of leaders to ask questions like "What do you do when you have an employee who isn't performing?" Having an outside perspective and sounding board for questions has been very helpful for my growth as a leader.

Another avenue for growth is peer and community leadership development networks. The one I'm involved in right now is called Leadership Tomorrow. It's a local leadership development program that selects a diverse and accomplished set of leaders from private, nonprofit, and public sectors. We meet once a month to learn about issues that face the community and work on projects to help local nonprofits. It has been a very valuable experience for me to be part of a group of local leaders who are putting into practice servant-leadership principles while addressing the challenges that face our region.

Also, I look at how Christ led and what he did. He was compassionate but not afraid of conflict. He was willing confront people when he needed to.

DR: Tell me more about Jesus being willing to step into conflict.

BB: I see the earthy, stand-toe-to-toe-with-someone response when Jesus steps into the temple and kicks everyone out who is in the place where the gentiles could come and worship God. He demonstrates how to be a strong and, at the same time, compassionate leader. And that, I'll tell you, is not an easy thing to pull off. It's hard to step into conflict and be thinking about what is best for that person and the community. In our Northwest culture, there's a lot of niceness but not much compassion. You need to be willing to tell someone “You have to do better" or "This isn't right" instead of letting it slide or, worse, talking about someone's performance behind their back. You confront because it's worth risking that relationship, because you know that confrontation is going to pay off for the person and the company later on.

DR: I'm just curious about the results you see from this philosophy. How do you deal with someone who doesn’t want to deal with the conflict directly or honestly?

BB: It's not easy. The hope is that Christians respond in a Christ-like way to conflict. You see pretty clearly in the gospels that Jesus’ enemies are scheming to get rid of him, but he demonstrates courage and compassion in his response. So I don't expect the response to be positive in return, and you can't demand that. I mean, that's an interesting thing. If you are trying to — and I'm not saying I'm perfect to this — but if you are trying to care for someone by entering into a difficult conversation with them, you can't control how that's going to turn out.

I have to think, even if they don't like hearing what I have to say right now, maybe there's something that could help them. I try to demonstrate trustworthiness and not go behind someone’s back. I have found, typically, that people respond pretty well if they know that they are cared for and that you can be trusted. When trust is in place, you can deal with conflict as it comes up. And I am realizing that I can bring issues up more freely now that I'm taking a long view of relationships. Even if someone decides to walk away, that's OK. You can't demand that the other person stays and responds in the same way. That's not a loving response.

Thoughts on Vocation

DR: Let's move toward this idea of vocation. Could you talk about your upbringing in the church, and the mentors in your life who were pointing you toward ministry, despite the fact that you went into business?

Brian Bauer: When I was in junior high and high school, I was active in my church, and there I learned that the highest two occupations you could have were missionary or pastor. I mean, those two were the pinnacle of Christian vocation. In fact, whenever I heard the notion of calling or vocation, those two occupations were the only ones I really thought of.

At the same time, I was active in our school's Distributive Education Clubs of America chapter and ran the school store. So as early as high school, I had this tension already set up. I wanted to go into business, and at the same time, I wanted to be part of the church and pursue the highest calling, which I saw as being a pastor.

I then went on to study business in college and had a lot of guilt about it, to be honest, because I thought, "I'm just selling out on this idea of being a minister." Since it's the highest calling, the best I can do now is to provide funding for other ministers through the work that I do. And so there was a lot of guilt, tension, and questioning. Is business bad? Is what I'm doing wrong? I had all these ideas about what it meant to be a businessman, and they were all negative. They came from the culture around me and, quite frankly, even from some church leaders. Many would talk about businesses in a negative light.

JT: How did the leadership at your church respond to your desire to study business?

BB: I remember talking to my high school youth pastor about my decision to study business in college, and he was completely against it. He didn't like what he saw from corporations, especially when he was in Africa. Even as I was finding success in business, enjoying my studies, and getting into the leadership program at Boeing, I still felt this struggle with vocation.

Around that time, a friend attended L'Abri, which is a Christian study center in Switzerland started by Francis Schaeffer. I had read some of Schaeffer's books when I was in high school and, coincidentally, the same pastor that was telling me business was bad gave me Schaeffer's books, which ultimately influenced me to go to L'Abri to think things through.

JT: So what happened at L'Abri?

BB: It was eye opening in a lot of ways. I took a leave of absence to go to L'Abri three years into my career. I was doing well in my job, but I knew if didn't try to answer these lingering questions, I would continue to struggle. And at the time I still thought "Business is just a stop gap. I'm going to go to seminary and then I'll become a minister and I'll be doing ‘God's work." Going to L'Abri was my way of sorting out whether or not I should go into vocational ministry.

While I was there studying the question of vocation, I came across all these new ideas, new to me at least, concerning what the Christian idea of vocation is really about. I read books and listened to lectures from Schaeffer and others, thinking through the theology and history of vocation. I looked at the Reformation view, that is, Martin Luther's perspective on vocation, which contained these great images of street sweepers serving God by doing their jobs well — meaning any kind of work could be glorifying to God. My time studying at L'Abri is what turned the switch for me. I learned that the idea of vocation wasn't exclusively about church ministry. You can do the work you enjoy and are skilled at, even if that's making money or providing a service, and that could be God's work.

I decided that I wouldn't go into vocational ministry and instead, came back and took up the job I've been meant for all along. My life's work is to figure out what it means for business to be my calling.

JT: As you returned to Boeing from L'Abri, how were things different for you in your work? What perspective did you bring?

BB: Well, I can tell you, internally, there was much less tension. I didn't think my profession was something I should be ashamed of. Now, I feel a measure of pride when I do my job well and help the company make money.

I began thinking about leadership in a different way. I considered the idea of servant leadership. Asking what does that look like. I went beyond the "how" of business and landed on the "why." That's part of the journey that led me to SPU for my MBA. This institution is a great place to learn more about servant leadership and think through the big ideas behind business, as opposed to just learning how to calculate the weighted average cost of capital and run a discounted cash-flow analysis. Don't get me wrong, we learned how to do that too, but I also had the chance to think through what it means to be a business leader in a deeper way.

And I don't think that's been fully formed and fleshed out yet for me. Growing into a calling is a process. When you are called to a place, whether it is ministry or another field of work, you are inevitably not going to be fully formed when you start.

JT: How do you help prompt change in people who don't understand calling and the meaning and purpose of work in the way that you do?

BB: First of all, Christians have thought about vocation for a very long time, and I would tell my younger self to start by looking into what was said in the Reformation about calling, and even before that. The world of business is not new. Commerce is as ancient as civilization. Reading what other thinkers and practitioners have said throughout history is a good starting place. I would tell fellow believers that there's probably much more to calling than they have heard about on Sunday morning.

When I get to talk to people who are starting their career, I let them know that what they are doing is good. If they are believers, I let them know that their work brings glory to God when done the right way. I mean, they are most likely not going to hear that from someone else. You may hear that going into a career in business is a good way to make a buck, but there's more to working in business than just that.

JT: Tell us more about the idea of integration. What does integration mean to you in the context of your work at Boeing, and in your broader work in the world? What does it look like for you to bring all of your spiritual, physical, emotional, vocational, and other elements of your life together?

BB: Well, primarily integration is about not turning off a switch when I leave the church building Sunday. It's thinking more intentionally about my life as a believer and how I live that out. There's a sense that I have this security in Christ, that He is making me this new creation. And if He is doing that, then it's not going to be a program I have to go do. If anything, it's about letting Him do that work.

JT: How do you make yourself integration-ready?

BB: By prayerfulness and being open to the work of God in my life. It's not so much the steps or activities that you have to do. Being integration-ready is being humble and open to the work of God. Being mindful throughout your day helps you be ready when you need to make a difficult decision.

When I'm in that posture, I'm not worried about what's going to happen to my job or how that person is going to react. If I know when I'm making a decision that God is going to watch over me regardless, I can make that choice. Even if there is fallout from that decision, I'm still OK. There's a freedom that comes from recognizing that security doesn't come from your job, but from a deeper place.

Inspirational Sources

JT: So who are your heroes in the work-and-faith movement? What resources do you draw on? Who or what have you found helpful?

BB: It's more about connecting with other believers in the marketplace. For me it's the unsung heroes with strong faith working in corporate America that I look up to, and those are the people who I keep in contact with and keep talking to. And I think I gain the most from them versus the more academic sources or popular books, because they provide a boots-on-the-ground kind of knowledge that I find very helpful.

And I've been discovering through my studies this long rich history within many Christian denominations of what it means to be a Christian at work. For me recently, Pope John Paul II has been a very inspirational writer.

I just finished reading his Centesimus Annus encyclical, which was in praise of the first social teaching encyclical 100 years prior. But why I find John Paul II's writing really interesting is that he essentially advocates the preferential option for the poor and for providing more opportunity for people in need, but not simply through redistribution of wealth. He said we should provide more opportunities for the poor through the free market. And he's very careful about how he defines the free market, not as some people might think, without regulation or where everything is for sale. He doesn't say that, and he confronts more problematic elements of the free market.

But he advocates for more opportunities for participation in the free market system, especially for the poor. Based on that premise, a business person's work has societal benefit. When a business owner provides someone with the opportunity to participate in the free market system, that owner gives them the chance to express their creativity and humanity through work in a way that benefits the worker and the worker's family.

DR: We've talked a little bit about your leadership style, and we've talked a little bit about how you have theologically altered your view on business. I'm curious what you would say to the Christian manager who feels stifled in a job, who feels like they don't have the ability to express their creativity because higher managers won't allow them.

BB: No matter how big an organization is or how small you feel, there's always a place where you can demonstrate care and respect, especially if you are a manager. Much of an employee's work experience will be defined by their manager. If a manager treats employees with respect, love, and trust, if he or she doesn't confront employees in anger but confronts them for their own good, they can change the world for their team.

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