Crash: Boeing and the Power of Culture


  • Thomas D. Zweifel University of St. Gallen (HSG) &, Switzerland
  • Vip Vyas INSEAD Knowledge, Hong Kong



Boeing, megaprojects, culture, ethics, leadership


Two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft crashed twice within six months, killing 167 and 189 passengers respectively. What was the root cause the two crashes had in common? This article finds that at its source, the problem was neither technical nor financial, but human. More precisely, the article makes the case that the failure of the Boeing 737MAX was a result of a corporate culture and mindset. As the management theorist Peter Drucker used to put it, culture eats strategy for breakfast: The most brilliant plans come to naught if the cultural force-field is aligned against them. Ultimately, Boeing is not alone. Building on an earlier finding that any organization is essentially a network of conversations (Zweifel 2019), we argue that many, if not most, megaprojects (defined as major capital development projects with a budget of at least US$ 1 billion) suffer from a cultural context, consisting of conversations that run invisibly—and hence even more powerfully—in the background, in what we call the project’s “Black Box.” If megaproject stakeholders and managers are to steer megaprojects to success, they need an expanded “Dashboard” to monitor and manage these hidden factors along the entire megaproject process.

Author Biographies

Thomas D. Zweifel, University of St. Gallen (HSG) &, Switzerland

Thomas D. Zweifel is a strategy and performance expert, board member, and award-winning author of eight books, including Culture Clash 2.0, Communicate or Die and Strategy-In-Action. From 1997 through 2013 he was the CEO of Swiss Consulting Group. For the past 20 years Dr. Zweifel has taught leadership and international management at Columbia University and HSG (St. Gallen University). He and his family live in Zurich.

Vip Vyas, INSEAD Knowledge, Hong Kong

Vip has spent his career working with exceptional, talented, committed senior leaders in complex global organizations to produce game-changing results. He has facilitated strategic design with clients at the group level to achieve market leading performance and is a Thought Partner to many executives leading multi-billion dollar businesses and projects

Vip also has extensive multi-cultural and cross-industry experience with a track record of being a catalytic partner with clients in over 25 countries.

As an individual, Vip is passionate in giving people the access to causing shifts in performance consistent with the demands of the market and stakeholder expectations.

Specialties: - Strategic Design, Development & Cascade
- Executive / Leadership Development & interventions
- High Performance Strategic Partnerships, Project Alliances and Joint Ventures
- Leading Change
- Post-Merger/ Acquisition Integration
- Superior Capital Project Performance
- Incident-Free Safety Performance
- Performance Coaching & Mentoring
- Conference Chairman and Speaker