Copyright © Boeing

AIMS @ 60

The Aerospace Industry Manufacturing Seminar, an historic executive education partnership between Foster and Boeing, celebrates six decades

Copyright © Boeing

Decades before the arrival of Microsoft, Starbucks or Amazon, there was The Boeing Company, the essential engine of the Pacific Northwest economy through most of its formative years.

In 1962, as the Seattle World’s Fair pointed the region toward a high-tech future, Boeing struck up a partnership with the UW College of Business (now the Foster School) to launch the Aerospace Industry Manufacturing Seminar (AIMS), an intensive, customized executive education program designed to develop its next generation of leaders.

Sixty years on and still going strong, AIMS has produced many generations of Boeing leaders among its 119 class cohorts and 4,143 graduates—and counting. And it has become the nation’s longest-running executive education partnership between an academic institution and a Fortune 100 firm.

Boeing and Foster leaders gather to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the AIMS Program.

“Much has changed over the years—especially the curriculum in order to reflect issues faced by organizational leaders in an ever-changing global economy,” says Jean Choy, the Foster School’s associate dean of executive education and international initiatives, who has been involved with AIMS for more than half of its existence. “What remains unchanged, though, are the learning objectives to improve operational process efficiencies that impact financial performance, the understanding of concepts behind design and manufacturing, the perspective of business value-add processes and the ability to lead with agility in the constantly changing environment.”

Enduring collaboration

The educational partnership between Foster and Boeing goes back even further than AIMS.

An earlier collaboration called the Aerospace Industry Purchasing Seminar was established in the mid-1950s by Al Schrieber, a Foster professor of management at the vanguard of simulation-based learning.

The scope of this Boeing-specific learning experience was expanded under the direction of fellow Foster professor William Newell in the early 1960s. It’s new incarnation? The Aerospace Industry Manufacturing Seminar.

The AIMS Program is still administered by Foster Executive Education and taught by some of the school’s finest faculty. But it has evolved with the times, in the same ethos of innovation that powers the company it serves.

Today’s AIMS consists of two weeks of intensive daily programming. Students are carefully selected from across the Boeing organization, then immersed in the principles of agile leadership and change management, and equipped with the tools to lead efficient design and manufacturing, operations management and financial performance.

Select students

Because AIMS is a nomination program, the most promising Boeing managers emerge through a rigorous selection process from multiple fields and functions across the global enterprise.

“AIMS has always been considered the most exceptional development opportunity for key leaders out of Boeing’s manufacturing, engineering and supply chain communities,” says Todd Zarfos, the recently retired vice president of engineering at Boeing Commercial Airlines’ Washington State Design Centers.

Zarfos earned an MS in electrical engineering at the University of Washington before completing AIMS years ago. He participated in its candidate selection process for over two decades, and sees the program’s positive impact as obvious and immediate, both for the individuals and the organization.

“Over that time period, I saw hundreds of Boeing leaders graduate from the AIMS program with a new set of confidence and equipped with tools to make them better leaders for their teams while simultaneously helping to sustain and grow our business,” Zarfos adds. “I am proud of the contribution that the AIMS program has played in developing a steady pipeline of thoughtful and engaged leaders.”

Inclusive, innovative

That pipeline of leaders being developed increasingly reflects Boeing’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, with significant representation of women and people of color in every AIMS cohort.

The once-regional program also draws from the national and even international reach of Boeing.

Those students receive an experience that is being refreshed continuously, says Suresh Kotha, the Oleson/Battelle Excellence Chair in Entrepreneurship and a professor of management at Foster, who has taught strategy in the AIMS Program since 2000.

One major innovation of the past decade, he says, is the “Leaders Teaching Leaders” component. Morning sessions taught by Foster faculty are followed by veteran Boeing executives whose experience and expertise place each topic in the context of the company’s current affairs.

“This has been a very fruitful combination of faculty and management,” Kotha says. “Students get the academic content and then hear from Boeing leaders about how it’s being applied at the company.”

He cites one other subtle but important benefit of AIMS: the networking it facilitates, especially across a global enterprise like Boeing. “The opportunity to connect with people and functions from across the company,” Kotha says, “is something that participants find extremely useful.”

Fruitful partnership

For the Foster School, an enduring partnership with one of the world’s iconic companies has been a privilege—a unique opportunity to both observe and, through its teaching, indirectly participate in the evolution of The Boeing Company.

“As an academic, it’s always been so insightful to see how a major company navigates transformation,” says Kotha, whose case study on the development of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is still featured in the AIMS curriculum. “We teach in the classroom while our students are experiencing it in real time.”

Over the past 60 years, through the many cycles of boom and bust, through shifting competitive landscapes, through globalization, product launches, mergers, acquisitions and myriad challenges and opportunities, this educational joint venture between Foster and Boeing has been a welcome constant for both parties.

Boeing and Foster have forged an enduring partnership. Copyright © Boeing.

“Though the program and the partnership have evolved over the years, our commitment to each other has never changed,” says Frank Hodge, the Orin and Janet Smith Endowed Dean of the Foster School. “The Foster School’s collaboration with Boeing is what has sustained AIMS for six decades and what has made it a world-class partnership. In the spirit of continuous improvement, together we are committed to continually exploring new frontiers.”

Learn more about the Foster School’s Executive Education programs.

Ed Kromer Managing Editor Foster School

Ed Kromer is the managing editor of Foster Business magazine. Over the past two decades, he has served as the school’s senior storyteller, writing about a wide array of people, programs, insights and innovations that power the Foster School community.