Taking Off at Boeing | Erb Institute Alumni Kelsea Ballantyne on Leadership and Positive Impact

Dec 13, 2018 2:50 PM ET

Kelsea Ballantyne earned her MBA/MS in 2016, as part of the Erb Institute and the Tauber Institute for Global Operations. She’s now in an executive development program at Boeing, working on the 777 and 777X airplanes, and she talked with Erb about her work there.

Could you tell us about your role at Boeing?
I’m in the Tauber/LGO Executive Development Program. It’s a 6-year rotation—I rotate every year—and  currently, I am a leader in Boeing’s 777/777X program. I work with the Composite Wing Center (CWC) building the new, state-of-the-art wing out of carbon fiber. I specifically work with mechanics, engineers and leaders to define and create the standard production process to build the wing. Building each component in a standard method reduces safety issues, reduces waste, increases quality, increases production rate and ultimately empowers our mechanics to define the best way to build the airplane. It has been amazing to have the opportunity to build a brand-new team, define the strategy and get buy-in from all stakeholders utilizing a systems thinking perspective and design thinking methods. We have been so successful with the 777/777X that this process is now being replicated as the enterprise standard for Boeing’s other commercial airplanes.

Read more about the initiative here in Market Watch!

How have you helped the company reduce waste and recycle materials?
Our 777X wing is made completely of carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP). The technologies and structures around recycling CFRP are nascent. So, in 2015, during my summer internship for Tauber, I defined and developed the system for the CWC to be Zero-Waste-to-Landfill (ZW2L) with CFRP. Boeing actually implemented the plan, including key technology development and partnerships with external recyclers. As a side project, I now lead the team that supports this process, and we have been ZW2L for our first year of production. We also have sustainable partnerships to continue this forward for the CWC. Boeing is planning to expand our ZW2L to all of our CFRP sites. This is also a process that has been integrated into the core way we do business instead of a side project.

What have you learned from your work at Boeing?
I am a leader in operations, working down on the shop floor, and not in a specific sustainability role. I’ve found that it is powerful to be engaged in the main business and then bring in sustainability initiatives. This allows me to utilize my leadership for good no matter where I am in the company.

I have also learned that low-stakes piloting of ideas and capturing the impact with real data is much more effective than sitting around in a room talking about why something will or will not work. This creates real stories and examples that can be shared to change a culture or convince leaders to change.

How have you put your Erb Institute education to use?
My systems thinking class with Tom Gladwin really opened my eyes to looking at how everything is connected—this has served me very well in a company as large as Boeing. At the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, I was in the Behavior, Education and Communications (BEC) track, and we learned a lot of behavior change models. Now, a lot of my work involves changing behavior.

Andy Hoffman’s class, Strategies for Sustainable Development, allowed me to develop my own philosophy about how to create change from within large corporations and also how to look at large shifts in markets. I have used this philosophy daily in my work, and it is also my north star, keeping me aligned to my purpose while in a large corporation like Boeing. I also was his graduate student instructor and loved seeing the cases being discussed.

Visit the University of Michigan Erb Institute website to read the rest of this Q & A. 


More information on recycling carbon fiber at Boeing