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Mon, May 28, 2007

Gone West: Retired Boeing Executive Jim Blue

Brought "Lean Manufacturing" To Company

Boeing exec Jim Blue's "lean manufacturing" initiatives transformed Boeing's production methods over the course of two decades.

Blue died Wednesday at 78 from complications related to diabetes, reported the Seattle Times.

He was recognized for driving quality improvements and cost-saving efficiencies at the company's highest levels, including sending top management to Japan to study production philosophies and Toyota assembly lines.

He was also instrumental in bringing the Concorde to Seattle's Museum of Flight.

Alan Mulally, former chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and now CEO at Ford Motor, called Blue "a mentor and teacher."

"Many of us will always have his customer-focus and working-together and continuous-improvement attitude, his leadership by example, and his positive spirit, with us forever," Mulally said.

Said Bob Bogash, friend and Boeing colleague, "He was a hard-charging, pedal-to-the-metal kind of guy, very much an extrovert."

Boeing engineer Joe Sutter, who led the 747 jumbo-jet program, described Blue as "very, very capable."

"He was irreverent toward all the rules and conditions at Boeing. He irritated the top management at times," Sutter said. "But he was one hell of a Boeing employee."

Born in 1929 in Wichita, KS, Blue's father had worked at Boeing there, in a warehouse job and managing airplane parts. During summers in high school, Blue worked in the Boeing warehouse, unloading boxcars.

Professionally, Blue worked in management on the 747 jumbo-jet program, later managing the organization providing after-sales support to airlines.

In the mid-'80s, when airlines raised issues of airplane-quality to Boeing's president, Blue was appointed head of quality management.

Blue developed seminars in Japan for all Boeing executives, and although the company was slow to adapt to those methods, by the 1990s leadership was committed, fully embracing the quality and efficiency improvements now known as "lean."

The change streamlined Boeing's production, dramatically shrunk its assembly plants, and increased outsourcing of lower-level parts work.

"Whatever steps Boeing has taken [toward Lean methods] ... can be attributed directly to Blue," Bogash said.

Blue retired in 1993. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.museumofflight.org

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