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Flying High by Giving Well: Boeing’s John Blazey on Corporate Philanthropy

This summer at Ethisphere, we gave our interns William Erblich and Andrew Marquardt a research project: which of the hundreds of companies with whom we work has the most robust, well thought-out, and generally impressive corporate social responsibility program? After weeks spent looking at dozens of companies, their answer was clear: The Boeing Company. The company’s vice president of Global Engagement, John Blazey, chats here with the two of them and our executive editor.

Tyler Lawrence: John, can you just tell us a little bit about what you do at Boeing and what your role is?

John Blazey: Happily. My title here at Boeing is Vice President for Boeing Global Engagement, and I lead the company’s charitable and philanthropic activities throughout the country and the globe. We here at Boeing are on track to donate and invest into communities about $200 million this year, which from our perspective is a significant investment in our local communities but also is a significant investment in our people and the towns in which our employees live and work and where we do our business.

TL: That’s quite a sum of money. When Boeing thinks about corporate giving, what is your overall strategy? How are you identifying where you would like to focus your efforts?

JB: For Boeing, we look at our community investment as a social responsibility, both in terms of it being a short-term business priority, but also as one of our longer Enduring Values, and it’s foundational to everything that we do here. Our focus is on three major pillars. The first one is developing tomorrow’s innovators, both to feed our pipeline here in the aerospace community and to fill those high-skilled jobs for the 21st century.

Then, our second major pillar is aiding our military veterans and their families as they transition from military service to our country to the civilian workforce. Third, we also recognize that Boeing, as a socially responsible corporate leader, has an obligation to ensure that we address and work with some of our community partners to ensure that our employees have very good places to live and work, and we have a conducive environment to conduct our business.

We invest strategically into those communities that have pressing needs. As an example, here in Chicago where our headquarters are located, we are investing in urban violence reduction activities, providing opportunities for youth. In Puget Sound and in Southern California, we’ve got some significant investments in environmental stewardship.

TL: It sounds like you all have lots of different areas of focus for your giving, which actually connects to the reason that we’re having this conversation. Boeing was identified as part of a research project by several of Ethisphere’s interns this summer as a company that is really leading the charge on certain kinds of giving and corporate social responsibility. Our interns, William Erblich and Andrew Marquardt, have a few questions about your corporate giving activities.

William Erblich: How are the local communities, cities, and countries where Boeing operates impacted by these commitments, and what sorts of stories do you hear from them?

JB: As I mentioned earlier, our strategy is made up of three distinct pillars, or focus areas. Through our third pillar, which we call “Our Homes: Dynamic Communities,” we work as a corporate social leader at the local level. We try to respond directly to issues that are critical to those communities where our company operates and where our employees live and work. As I said earlier, here in Chicago, we are specifically addressing efforts to reduce violence here in the urban core, and we are addressing a number of environmental issues in Puget Sound, the state of Washington, and in Southern California.

This localized focus ladders up to our approach to creating opportunities across the globe, in terms of STEM education, workforce preparation, and then for our veterans and for their families. In terms of how directly our investments are impacting our employees, I can share with you, for example, one of our recent announcements included one million dollars for reforestation in Southern California, recognizing the significant loss of trees in forests there in recent months due to forest fires. Our people were affected by those forest fires and the subsequent flooding. Similarly, we announced a $1.5 million grant in Puget Sound and in Oregon to replant forests that were lost due to recent fires out in those areas, too.

We do a lot of investment in Charleston, as well. We build the 787 there. I was just there recently and heard firsthand from some of the local students and children about the opportunities that they are being given for learning, particularly STEM education, that they would not otherwise have, had it not been for Boeing’s investment.

Andrew Marquardt: How does Boeing’s commitment to empowering and employing veterans in particular impact the company culture?

JB: Interesting question. As you know, Boeing has a commercial aircraft manufacturing business, a wide-ranging global services business, and we also produce some of the world’s finest military equipment that enables and protects our troops while they’re in the field protecting our freedoms while we are back here at home. Supporting our troops and their families both while they’re on active duty as well as when they return is vital to our mission. We made it a focus of our investment to ensure that these men and women and their families successfully transition from the military workforce to a civilian workforce.

Some 43 percent of veterans do not identify their military service on their resume. That’s rather shocking, when you think about it, because these men and women have incredible skills that are in fact very translatable to working in The Boeing Company, for example. The skills that the men and women of our armed services have are very, very translatable, so we are investing in services that provide for that seamless transition from military service to civilian workforce.

Not only are we focusing on that seamless transition, we’re also recognizing that oftentimes, men and women who serve in our military have invisible wounds of war, and we very proudly support opportunities that provide rehabilitation to our servicemen and women. We’re working very closely with any different number of organizations. I’m very proud of an organization that we’re working closely with at the University of Utah, the National Center for Veteran Suicide, to reduce suicide ideation in some of our veteran community. So, we at Boeing are very committed to our veterans, both in terms of our product delivery but also in terms of our investment strategy in our communities.

TL: John, thank you so much for taking the time to give us some of your and Boeing’s perspective on all of the excellent charitable work and other forms of corporate responsibility that Boeing engages in. To close out, how has your approach to your investments and giving evolved over the last few years?

JB: We traditionally have not really touted or made our investments known publicly, even internal to The Boeing Company, and that has changed here in the last three years. As I said, we are on track to make $200 million in investments this year.

I would also say that Boeing was one of the first companies after the enactment of the recent tax reform legislation to announce $100 million in additional community giving, as well as $300 million in other types of investments to benefit not only communities but also our employees. We’re taking a far more active, less static, very engaged approach to our giving here at Boeing, recognizing that we give a lot of money. We recognize that we have an opportunity to be a corporate citizen and lead social change in some of our communities, and we also recognize that we do this because there’s an important business and altruistic reason for doing so.


About the Expert:

John Blazey is vice president for Boeing Global Engagement, a position that he assumed in June 2016. He is responsible for the development and execution of The Boeing Company’s charitable giving and employee volunteerism engagement strategies, directing programs and resources that impact key issues. He works across the Boeing enterprise to partner with organizations and communities in which Boeing has a presence.

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