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.

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.

What else do you draw on from your University of Michigan experience?

Today, I’m growing and leading a team. I did this a lot in grad school, albeit with lower stakes. Because I was able to experiment, I’m more comfortable leading confidently in my current role. I also implement a lot of the techniques and activities I learned in the Center for Positive Organizations with my current teams.

Being an Erb Coach taught me a ton of invaluable skills that I use all the time with my current team, and even while “managing up.” The reality is that as a leader, people come to me with life stuff and work stuff, and I know how to effectively listen and help them because of the skills I learned and was able to practice through Erb Coaching.

The Erb Community is invaluable! Since leaving Ann Arbor, they have continued to be some of my closest friends. I know that no matter where we live, there is a good Neighb-Erb nearby. Even if they aren’t nearby, we will always make an effort to see one another. We Erbers seem to have common perspectives that make talking about things—both work and personal—truly natural and awesome! (We also always have the best food.)

What else do you think the Erb community might want to hear about your experience?

I had a very non-traditional background coming into Erb and Ross. I was an entrepreneur in India and Tunisia for many years, and I thought I wouldn’t be competitive or interested in working at a large corporation. Completing MAP at Amazon, doing my Tauber project at Boeing and honing my philosophy and strategy in Hoffman’s class gave me the confidence that I can make a difference at these large organizations; now I am making a difference every day.

I have learned that my passion combined with everything I learned as part of my Erb experience absolutely prepared me to be a great leader and influencer at a large organization like Boeing. I move the needle for sustainability through being a part of the core business. Large organizations have large impacts, on both environment and people. My role is to make these impacts positive.

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