Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 13
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  • OLIVER C. BOILEAU 1927–2007


    OLIVER C. BOILEAU, a retired senior aerospace executive, died on July 27, 2007, at the age of 80. Mr. Boileau, known as Ollie, was a critical participant in some of America’s most important and challenging defense and space programs. He held top leadership positions at the Boeing Company, General Dynamics Corporation, and Northrop Grumman Corporation.

    He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1979 for “contributions to the technical and cost management of major aerospace programs and to national defense.” Born in Camden, New Jersey, on March 31, 1927, Ollie grew up and went to school in that state. A good student with a strong interest in technical subjects, he soon set his sights on becoming an engineer. After graduating high school, eager to serve his country, Ollie joined the U.S. Navy. He fi nished at the top of his class in a Navy electronics training program, and after specializing in shipboard communication, he became a petty offi cer while still in his teens.

    He later considered this early leadership experience, and his service in Japan, valuable extensions of his education. In June 1946, he returned to New Jersey, where he met his future wife, Nan Eleze Lee. The couple were married in 1951, the beginning of a lifelong union; they subsequently had two sons, two daughters, and two grandchildren. After the war, Ollie attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a B.S. in 1951 and an M.S. in electrical engineering in 1953. In 1964, as a Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he earned an M.S. in industrial management. Ollie began his industrial career in 1951 at the RCA Corporation in Camden, working on aircraft electronics.

    In 1953, he joined the Boeing Company in Seattle as a research engineer. He progressed rapidly through the technical and management ranks at Boeing, where he directed work on major programs. In 1968, he was named a vice president, and in 1973 he was promoted to president of Boeing Aerospace Company, the corporation’s military and space arm. In 1980, Ollie left Boeing to become president and a member of the Board of Directors of General Dynamics Corporation, in St. Louis. In January 1988, he was promoted to vice chair of the board. He retired from General Dynamics in May 1988. In 1989, he joined Northrop in southern California, where he headed the company’s work on the B-2 stealth bomber for the U.S. Air Force. In 1994, when Northrop acquired some of Grumman Corporation’s operations, Ollie became head of that division, as well as vice president and a board member of Northrop Grumman Corporation.

    He retired on January 29, 1995. Ollie was a member of the Defense Science Board of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Scientifi c Advisory Group of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, and the Energy Research Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of Energy. He was also a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a trustee and member of the Association of the U.S. Army, and a member of the Air Force Association, the Navy League of the United States, and other associations.

    Ollie was chairman of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Advisory Board, a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Louis University, and a member of visiting boards for MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and Southern Methodist University. During his long career, Ollie was instrumental in many high- profi le defense and space ventures. As a Boeing engineer and manager, he was a leader in the development of the solid fuel- propelled Minuteman ICBM, which had been designated the “highest national priority.”

    He also led a Boeing team assigned to revamp the Lunar Rover Project, and eventually, the Lunar Rover performed brilliantly on the Moon. Later, at General Dynamics, Ollie rescued the faltering M-1 Abrams tank program, which had been acquired as part of Chrysler’s defense operations. Under his leadership, performance of the tank was greatly improved, and congressional confi dence in the system was restored. The M-1 subsequently became a critical element of the company’s business. When Ollie joined Northrop in the late 1980s, the B-2 division faced the formidable tasks of simultaneously completing a development flight-test program, building low-rate initial production vehicles, and fi elding the fi rst block of operational vehicles.

    The assignment was complicated, not only by the challenges of developing and testing these revolutionary technologies, but also because the division was relatively new—as were the program’s relationships with Northrop, Boeing, Vought, GE, and Hughes, not to mention relationships with new customers. Overall, Ollie confronted a systems- integration mission comparable in some respects to those of the Manhattan Project. Ollie fi rst focused his efforts on building his team, introducing the systematic rigor and discipline he expected to be implemented throughout the program.

    He was the ultimate taskmaster, and “Ollieisms” quickly became legend. The B-2 program comprised an incredible mix of talented people from across the country, but Ollie was able to instill a cultural identity in this “melting pot.” He did this by creating “boot camp style” seminars for the high-potential managers focused on systems engineering, program management, and major subcontract management.

    He also “empowered” the industry partners by strengthening ties and improving communications among key corporations. But most important, he taught, he taught, and he taught. He would talk to a technician working on the airplane and ask to be shown the command media or the drawing tree that authorized the work. Or he would sit in a tank-sealing course to see if he could do the task himself after being trained.

    His message was clear—get involved in the details, demand rigor and discipline in all processes, confi guration-control systems, and scheduling and cost-management systems, and then follow up to ensure they are implemented. Despite the numerous locations and constituencies involved in this massive undertaking, Ollie gradually instilled a dedication to collaborative action and created the common tools and techniques to meet performance goals and achieve success.

    The foundation he built for the B-2 program is still relied on today. Ollie’s expertise in and fascination with the enterprise of engineering were the foundations of his skills as a leader. In 2001, speaking at the commencement ceremony of the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering, he marveled at today’s technologies and noted how far and fast engineering had advanced since the day, 60 years ago, when ENIAC, the fi rst electronic computer, was invented at Penn, and how many new avenues for exploration are open to graduating engineers today.

    Despite these great leaps forward, he told the students, one thing about engineering never changes. “The most fulfi lling experience is still to create something through teamwork.” He is survived by his wife, Nan Eleze (Lee) Boileau; two daughters; two sons; and two grandchildren.

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