I wouldn’t place much faith in what you were told. McDonald Douglas and Boeing were fierce competitors for decades, and they were really the last major commercial competitor in the US. is it really all that surprising the boeing employees would be negative on the merger?
the things you’re relating here, this is one of the favorite myths of seattle boeing employees. you hear it everywhere, even today, and the people today, I mean, these are like stories of their parents, passed down from generation to generation about the boogey man. The only people left from that timeframe were almost all kids then. Very, very few of these people have any first hand experience with any of this. In seattle, generations of employees are a thing, and kids continuing that tradition aren’t going to question stories like this from their parents.
The merger myth gets lots of play in seattle because the commercial employees use it to shield themselves from the reality that BA would have gone bankrupt, twice, if the defense business wasn’t there to bail them out. They complain that those mcdonald douglas people were all overly focused on financials and not, I don’t know, i guess the spirit of flying? Well, the opinion of the mcdonald douglas folks was that boeing wasted incredible amounts of money on nothing because they had no concept (broadly speaking) of the financial restrictions that come with government contracts. A typical conversation would look like “No, sorry man, you can’t use taxpayer dollars to buy a new TV for the lobby. It’s literally illegal. It’s taxpayer money, you can’t just use it for whatever you want.” All of the baggage that comes with government contracts and foreign military sales was so alien to these people that they confused basic accounting and following the law with some sort of machiavellian plot to destroy the spirit of Old Mr Boeing. Some of them aren’t even aware you can’t just sell military aircraft overseas just because you want to make more money.
I would imagine that, if you asked those who like to bitch about the merger, they would consistently underestimate the percentage of revenue that the defense business brings in. There are a shocking amount of people in seattle that feel like they can give a detailed analysis of the corporate history, but they don’t even know where the money comes from. Like, even in general. Many of them seem to be under the impression that the defense business is about 15% of revenue, not the 30-60% it has been for the past 25 years.
I mean, literally the only reason some of those people still have jobs (after MAX and COVID wiped out all cash at the company practically overnight) is because BA owning the (countercyclical) defense business is the only reason there weren’t 10,000 or 20,000 additional layoffs. You have to be remarkably thick to have a career in aerospace and not know these things.
The money part of the myth is particularly funny, since it was the massive cash flow from the C17 that Boeing was most desperate for at the time. Mcdonald Douglas was fine at the time, but there was no great long term prospect because they had just lost two massive contracts (F22 and F35), so a sale before things got rough was a reasonable idea. In return Boeing picked up a ton of cash and a countercyclical business.
The “lost their way to MBAs” myth of course also covers up the fact that most of the layoffs from the merger were McDonald Douglas employees, as well as the fact that Boeing’s financial focus began well before the merger.
Ask one of these people to explain how it is that MD was a doomed company overly focused on cost cutting, yet had fantastic labor relations due in large part because of the willingness to compensate those same employees. I doubt they even knew relations were that good.
There’s two additional reasons this myth persists in seattle.
Lots of manufacturing employees in the 90s, the boomers, and early aughts were outsourced. The middle class shrunk. For many of these people, it wasn’t obvious this was caused by US policy or longterm demographic shifts. The merger was much more
concrete thing you could point to as “well this company just isn’t what it used to be.” It wasn’t. But that wasnt because of the merger. This was a generational shift, and a lot of people don’t want to admit that, because it implies they bear at least some responsibility. You know those coal miners during the last election that everyone talked about, but none of them actually wanted new jobs, they just wanted to keep being coal miners? That’s kind of what the culture at Boeing was (and is). Parents then pass down these stories, and here we are, listening to old timers tell stories about the good old days.
The second reason of course is because it was a convenient excuse for the cost cutting that occurred afterwards and in the aughts (2001! 2008!). The myth spinners will tell you this is because of the MD execs who got in power… but like, hello? all the execs? the board? really? lol all the Seattle executives had to do was roll eyes and grumble about MD and the employees would fall right in line.
but this is not as nice and understandable a story as the myth. reality is commercial aviation isn’t as glamorous or
profitable as it was in the 60s-80s, and a lot of people in seattle don’t like that they’re
no longer as important as they used to be. or would have been had they been born 30 years earlier.
PS if anyone suggests MD didn’t know how to build airplanes because they weren’t real engineers like in seattle… well, the C17, Md80, F15, and F18 are all still in regular use today, and at least for the military aircraft, are considered the best in the world even today, despite being designed and build many decades ago. these are a _little_ more sophisticated and complicated, frankly, than a bus that just has to be safe and cheap, and things are a little simpler when your customer is a corporate exec and not a pissed off 4-star that answers to the president.