Doing Culture

I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game; it is the game.

—Lou Gerstner, former Chairman of the Board and CEO, IBM

The General Electric Aircraft Engine Assembly plant in Durham, North Carolina, produces some of the most powerful and technically complex aircraft engines in the world. Seen from the outside, there is little remarkable about this plant. Two hangar-sized buildings dominate 500 unlandscaped acres of the rolling North Carolina countryside, each with more than three acres of floor space and multistory ceilings. Before GE moved here, it was a steam-generator plant, and the corrugated metal walls and concrete floors betray little about this twenty-first-century enterprise. There are no offices, no recreation centers, and no fancy lunchrooms. Every year, more than 400 of the largest engines in the world roll out the door. These engines power large commercial aircraft, like the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A320, including the engines that keep Air Force One aloft. Each engine GE/Durham makes weighs 8.5 tons or more and has more than 10,000 parts.1 Each part must be assembled to the most exacting specifications. Nuts as light as an ounce must be tightened to a specific tightness using a torque wrench. Gaskets three feet in diameter can be no more than half the width of a human hair out of round or they will malfunction, causing potential disaster. Each time one of these engines flies, hundreds of people rely on its ...

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