By Barney Blakeney
As she’s progressed throughout her career at Boeing, Joan Robinson-Berry holds tight to three things from her humble beginnings: family first, faith forever and education matters. Those basic principles elevated her from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the greater Los Angeles, CA, to places she had only dreamed of – international boardrooms, glamorous political circles and some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world.
Growing Up Surrounded By ‘Can’t’ And ‘Won’t’
As a child, she heard a chorus of “can’t” and “won’t” but singular voices of support – her father, her sister and a guidance counselor who saw very real potential – propelled her on a journey that still continues. The journey has been marked by tragedy, but Robinson-Berry is determined to take each tragedy and turn it into a victory. She has refused to give violence, bigotry and ignorance power in her life.
Her father, a Los Angeles police officer, was killed in the line of duty when she was a teenager. It left her with a heavy burden, including helping to care for younger brothers and sisters, but it didn’t stop her. She remembers her father pushing her to get an education so that she could have more choices in life. With his dreams echoing in her ears, she attended advanced mathematic classes at the local community college while she was still in high school.
She did manage to find time for fun, playing the clarinet and the saxophone in the school band and serving as a cheerleader. She also has fond memories of dancing on the popular television show Soul Train.
Robinson-Berry attended California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and made the most of the university’s programs for at-risk students. While she was there, she won an award as a distinguished engineer – nearly unheard of for a woman, much less an African-American woman at the time. Now, long after earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Technology, her picture still hangs at the school in recognition of her accomplishments.
Life-Long Professional Growth
Before she had finished her degree, she helped to start an engineering company. She also interned and worked at General Dynamics, where she worked on the shop floor as an NC programmer. After graduation, she married and moved on to a liaison engineering role at McDonnell Douglas, where she quickly rose through the ranks.
By the 1990s, she led the MD-90 program, which required her to understand international business realities for both suppliers and customers. The merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas opened new opportunities for Robinson-Berry and she has moved five times for career opportunities, each time taking on widely different roles at the request of senior leaders who admired her innovation, critical thinking, team building and solid decision-making skills. During her career she has earned a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management & Business Administration.
Her assignments have required her to build strategic relationships with universities; to develop relationships with small, disadvantaged suppliers; and to manage a portfolio of $8 billion of non-production goods and services produced for the company. She sets high expectations for herself and those around her. Today she proudly serves as vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina. She has prioritized implementing sound policies that meet the needs of the teammates and the site and achieve business targets.
Helping Others Achieve ‘Can’ And ‘Will’
Her father’s legacy continues to lift her up to a life of service that includes helping local agencies advance education and well-being initiatives for students and across the local communities she’s resided in throughout her life.
That commitment to education, leadership and advocating for women in aerospace was reaffirmed this month with an achievement award from Women in Aerospace. The organization annually recognizes women who have made significant contributions to the aerospace community. Joan now joins more than eight past and present Boeing leaders who have received similar recognition from the organization.
In honor of this recognition, Robinson-Berry’s mentors and mentees across Boeing showed their appreciation for her by sharing how she helps advance women in aerospace roles as well as her ability to relate to and empathize with others.
“Joan showed me that I can accomplish my goals regardless of what obstacles I face and how to turn those obstacles into opportunities,” said Shameka Almond, a mentee of Joan’s from Boeing South Carolina. “I can only hope that I will be able to share with another young woman what Joan has shared with me.”
Joan Robinson-Berry defines herself as a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a mentor and a leader. It’s a lot of roles to fill but she does so with a spirit of service and gratitude.