Angelo Mucci: Boeing consultant

Angelo Mucci portraitAngelo Mucci had served in the Army Air Corps and was enrolled in college when he met Rose. “I thought, ‘You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to get a job and go to work and get married,” he told me. “We had a great big Italian wedding. It was just outstanding. You weren’t there.”

Mucci is a wisecracker. Maybe five foot two. Seriously Italian. He grew up alongside Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola in a tight-knit St. Louis neighborhood called the Hill. (“Today you can’t call it Dago Hill. They call it Italian Heights, OK?”) Nobody went hungry during the Depression, but the boy and his pals all worked part-time jobs, Mucci selling newspapers and working at a theatre. “It made me appreciate what I got today versus what I didn’t have then. And I met Rose in our neighborhood,” said Mucci, looking across the kitchen table into her calm hazel eyes. “Down the alley,” Rose confirmed.

Some people’s very first job steers them towards the career of a lifetime.  For Mucci, it was the second one. He took a job with Magic Chef, the stove manufacturer, but went along with a friend for a look at a company called McDonnell that built airplanes. His dad, an engineer, told him, “They’ll build stoves forever.” When the young man was hired as a flight line mechanic getting planes ready for take-off, his dad said, “That’s the biggest mistake you ever made, buddy.” Six months later, Magic Chef moved out of town. The company went from McDonnell to McDonnell-Douglas to Boeing, and 60 years later Mucci was still on the payroll.

That kind of loyalty is now an artifact of a near-extinct corporate culture. The sinecure brings security and stability, but it can also restrict an employee to a very narrow set of opportunities. Mucci didn’t let that happen, and neither did Boeing. The 22-year-old didn’t know anything about mechanics, “but you got promoted based on your talent, based on your energy, and that’s what helped me along.” He spent six years on the flight line, but it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and Mucci got interested in avionics — the sophisticated electronics in all modern aircraft, satellites, and spacecraft. “To be honest, I don’t know anything more about avionics than I do about this refrigerator,” said Mucci, thumping the Frigidaire behind him. “But this engineer, his name was Bob Jergens, and he said, ‘I’II tell you what, Ange, you stick with me and you just listen, and I’ll make you the smartest engineer in avionics that you ever saw.’”

In the beginning his lack of a diploma bothered Mucci, but he soon realized that “it’s who you know, and not what you got. I mean, when I go to a meeting, nobody says, ‘Ange, have you got a degree?’ And in 60 years, I probably picked up enough data and knowledge that I could qualify for a PhD.” Ambition didn’t hurt, and neither did being Italian. He came up through the ranks with a senior engineer named John Capolupo, who told him, “Hang with me, Ange.” Capolupo went on to become president of Boeing, and Mucci became the company’s top avionics expert.

Mucci worked out of Boeing headquarters at St. Louis’ Lambert Airport until the day Capolupo asked him for a favor. “I need you to go to this company called Hughes Aircraft. They’re making this black box; they’re late, and it’s bad quality.” Different systems on an aircraft can be wired through as many as 50 black boxes, which determine whether the plane is safe to fly and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “You go out there, and, see what the hell’s going on, and fix it.” Mucci put on a suit, borrowed a briefcase, and got on the first commercial flight of his life, to the Hughes headquarters in Carson City, California. When he ran into trouble, Capolupo told him, “’Ange, you’ve got to stand on your own two feet. If I’ve got to come out there, I don’t need you, you understand? Now fix the damn thing!’ That was it,” Mucci recounted.

Mucci spent the next 35 years “fixing the problems,” flying out of St. Louis out on Monday and back on Friday. “You name a place, you name a company. It could be Casio Electronics, it could be Northrup, it could be GE. When I go in, they say, ‘Well look who’s here.’ After all these years they know me.”  On site, Mucci laid out three concerns. “First of all, quality. The box has got to work, okay? Secondly, you’ve got to make schedule. We build airplanes, so many a month. And the third thing is cost. I go in, and I say, ‘Jimmy, are those dates solid?’ Dead silence. ‘Well, Ange, you’ve got to understand, this is high risk—.” Mucci interrupts: “You’ve got to understand. I’ve got a B1 bomber worth $82 million out there. Now what I want to know is, am I going to get this part? You working seven days a week, 24 hours a day?  Here’s the deal: you’ve got to convince me. Because if you guys ain’t cutting it, I’ve got no choice. I’m going to have to call the vice president of your company.”

Behind his back, Mucci’s co-workers called him The Terminator. He never took no for an answer, and he went up the ladder if he had to. [Hear him in action on the audio clip below.] But he did it “with a certain amount of charm, class and dignity,” not only because management was usually at fault but because he and his suppliers had to work together to solve the problem. He knew how to listen, “better now than when I was a youngster,” and he genuinely liked these guys. They got their licks in too. One evening he came out of New Jersey’s Teeterboro Airport to find his car missing.  “Figuring I’m getting up in age, the guard says ‘Ange, you forgot where you parked it.’” Mucci knew better: the Honeywell crew, who just happened to be all Italian, had taken the keys off his desk and moved the car.

Humor was an essential weapon in Mucci’s arsenal, and his age wasn’t off limits. He recounted gleefully that when some of his suppliers saw him coming, “they say: ‘I thought you’d died.’” Nor was he shy about taking advantage of his 82 years, seeing as “When I do it it’s okay.” After a luncheon with Vicki Panhuise, the vice president of Honeywell Avionics (“this girl Vicky must have 2,000 people working for her), he said, “’You know what, Vicky? You really look good today.’ She goes, ‘Thanks.’ I go, ‘Because normally you don’t look that good.’” The veep didn’t skip a beat. “ ‘Oh Ange?’ I go, ‘Yes ma’am?’ She goes, ‘By the way, here’s your room key. I left it in my purse last night.’ I’ll tell you, everybody went, ‘Is that right?’”

Aviation engineering is no longer the all-white, all-male bastion it was when Mucci started out, and he welcomed the change: “If you’ve got the talent, I don’t care if you’re green, blue, pink or white.” He was open-minded, and one of the things he’d changed his mind about was following his mother-in-law’s example of never spending, always saving. Frugal by nature, Mucci had paid off the mortgage on his modest home, kept expenses low, and was known to sport a hat that said “Don’t forget my senior citizen discount.” But he listened to advice that he should spend more and enjoy the benefits during his lifetime. Mucci really got the message when his mother-in-law went into a nursing home “and Rose was writing checks for $5,000 a month. Because you know what? The lady next door to my mother-in-law, her nursing home didn’t cost a dime. She was on Medicare.” Now he and Rose hand their Social Security over to their son and daughter, for whom they’ve also bought houses, and they pay graduate school tuitions for two grandchildren. “There’s only two things I want to do,” he told me, beaming with pride. “Hear them say, ‘Dr. Adam Rammacher’, and see Hayley get her doctorate in physical therapy.”

Mucci with a photo of his casketMucci with a photo of his casketQuite hard of hearing, Mucci was looking forward to getting his first hearing aids. His daughter Mary, who joined us for the interview, had threatened to stop calling him, and the woman who made his travel arrangements “was tired of hearing me go, ‘What?’ ‘Huh?’ So everybody is looking forward to Tuesday,” he acknowledged without a trace of sheepishness. Why the wait?  “I couldn’t afford them.”  At this, Mary burst out laughing.  Mucci elaborated: “I wasn’t going to put out four grand for a little piece of electronics that cost about 150 bucks!” Instead he wrote a letter to his senator, Claire McCaskell, enclosing his discharge papers from WWII and the Korean War, and got them for free.  “He kind of got our law changed,” Mary explained.

When asked why he stayed on the job, Mucci had a stock answer: “Let me tell you something: I just bought a new car.” Yeah, but the car was a secondhand Toyota. And while his income had long benefited the family — “Rose never had to worry about paying the gas bill, telephone bill, water bill, because the cash was always there” — almost all of his pay had gone into the bank for decades. He didn’t bother putting in for overtime. It wasn’t really about the money, and when pressed, Mucci admitted as much.  A few weeks earlier he’d had surgery for a blocked intestine, and Mary pointed out that “when you couldn’t work you were having a fit. What did you tell every single nurse and doctor who came in? You told them where you worked, what you did, that you were paying for tuition.” Mucci squirmed, maintaining that he’d been consumed by the pain and indignities of his hospital stay. Turning to me, Mary said, “His work is his identity.”

Mucci’s energy and tenacity sure set an example for his grandchildren. When Adam didn’t get into medical school, instead of taking no or an answer he talked the dean into giving him a chance. Ten years earlier, Hayley received an A on a paper that read in part: “My grandpa Angelo teaches a very valuable lesson, and that lesson is: you’re never too old to do anything. Right now he is on an Alaskan cruise and is planning to climb a glacier . . . He still cuts his own lawn, which is big, and is always ready to take me places. . . . He says that if he is ever forced to retire he will have to get a couple of part time jobs.”

That time might not be too far off, although as the second audio clip below attests, conventional retired life held little appeal.  “Between you and me, I’m getting tired,” said Mucci. “I enjoy the work. What’s killing me is the flying. I’ve been going to Albuquerque for almost 18 months, and it takes me all day. It’s atrocious, and I fly first class. Last night I was telling Rose ‘You know what? I’m reaching the point where it’s not so much fun anymore.” He’d never been willing to leave his roots or uproot his family, but had paid for it with an awful lot of time away from St. Louis. Mucci credited his success to “luck and the right connections” — and the fact that Rose “put up with a lot of bullshit from me.” I’d add diligence, humor, and optimism to the list. “If they hand me a layoff,” he declared with a grin, “I’m going to come back and go, ‘Okay Mary, let’s get on the internet and find something to do, babe.”

9 thoughts on “Angelo Mucci: Boeing consultant

  1. This is great!!  My dad is at Honeywell at this time.  They printed off 12 copies and sent it around the office.  We are forwarding the link to everyone.  The secretary who forwarded it told me that Angelo brightens her day whenever she sees him.  My dad said he sure is glad that Vicki, the vice president of Avionics at Honeywell, has a good sense of humor!!
    We love it!!  Can’t wait for the book.

  2. Ashton

    Your interview with my father, Angelo, captures his personality perfectly. It is clear from the interview that my father has always been full of energy and still is.  It is also clear that he has used his money to help my sister and me and has done so with a graciousness and goodwill that is uncommon in today’s world.  He has been a rock for our immediate family and our extended family for over 50 years, yet he is modest and unassuming. 

    I once read that “a gentleman is man who never undermines the confidence of another man”.  That is my father, pure class.

    by Steve Mucci (his son).  Age 58 

  3. I work at the front desk of the hotel that Mr. Mucci checks into every week, and I must say he puts a smile on my face every time he enters the lobby.  After reading the article and listening to the audio clips it made me appreciate his spunky upbeat attitude even more.  Mr. Mucci never forgets to tell me “if this counter was any higher, you wouldn’t be able to see me”.  Mr. Mucci is the nicest man anyone could ever meet!

    Friend at the front desk
    Jaymes M. Delgado

        My husband Ed and I (Norma) meant Angelo years ago at the golden arches McDonalds.
         Every Saturday and Sunday Morning we have breakfast.  We talk about his job, and figure out the worlds problems.  Sometimes he tells silly jokes and stories about work.  Angelo tells us about where he’s going.  And of course he always flys FIRST CLASS.  We enjoy our so call meetimg.
    He talks alot about his grandchildren.  He is realy very proud of all of them.
         Angelo enjoys his work, he has ambition and drive.  And he can fix the problem.  He’s beter at working on the black boxes then working at Magic Chef.
         His co-workers may call him the Termnator but he will stand up and do his job and he’s good at it.
         He is full of humor.  Angelo will hear the words, “Dr. Adam Rammacher”.  And see Hayley get her doctorate in Physical Therapy.  Becasue Angelo Mucci is hardworked, and he doesn’t give up.  And the grandchildren see that and they will always remember that.
         And Grandpa Angelo teaches them a valuable lesson, to keep going and never give up.
         Its fun having breakfast with Angelo because he makes sure of that, because of his humor, he’s a wise cracker and e is an Italian.
    See you on Saturday “Babe”
    Ed & Norm Reddy

  5. I have had the pleasure and honor of working with Angelo for several years.  I’m not even sure how it first happened, but I am one of the administrative assistants that he would come to while he was in Albuquerque at Honeywell. He started bringing me some kind of pastry every morning, so we have a running joke that I only do work for him because he feeds me!  When I first met Angelo, I must admit I was a little intimidated, but I soon found out that under that sometimes gruff exterior is a man with a heart of gold.  He has become like a father figure to me.  I have had some difficulties over the past year, and I felt comfortable sharing them with Angelo.  Every time he sees me now he asks about every situation and he always remembers every single detail I have told him.  He knows I have to travel by car quite often, and he always asks me if my car is okay! I think everyone here knows that we can joke with Angelo, and he’s always ready to have a friendly chat.  But when it comes to business, we also know that he is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry.  He is trusted and respected, and if you want to earn his trust and respect, just be honest and keep your promises to him! I know the day will come when he decides to stay home and relax with his beloved Rose, and I will miss not seeing him, but his friendship will be a treasured memory forever!

  6. I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Angelo for several years now.  Angelo is the Boeing Customer Representative for several boxes that we supply Boeing. When I first met Angelo, I had just taken over the Manufacturing line and he scared the living daylights out of me. Angelo asked several tough questions about deliveries to Boeing. I quickly learned that you could not B.S. him as during his career he has heard it all before.  As we started working together I realized, (and that is the key phrase – working together, most people in his position are for want of a better term, “Starched Shirts”, and tend to treat you as an adversary, rather than a partner.), that we both have a lot of the same beliefs when it comes to manufacturing, no matter what you are building, how fancy you have made your processes, what “flavor of the month” initiative you have implemented, it all comes down to the people on the line who are putting the boxes together. What have you done to help them get the work done, and are you staying out of their way and also keeping management out of their hair so they can get the work done.

    Angelo reminds me of my father, there is nothing that can’t be fixed with just a little work and not looking for the easy way out or to blame others. Angelo is very down to earth and I can chat with him for hours on just about anything that is happening in the world. He is always asking me about my son, who is also pursuing a career as a Physical Therapist, and my daughter, who loves to travel the world, and shared my angst when she went to South America this past summer on a medical mission. As Kathy stated, Angelo has a heart of gold and I will also miss him when he decides to quit traveling to Albuquerque and spend more time with Rose and his family. I will always look back to our conversations and think back on his advice when I face difficult situations.

  7. I have known for Angelo for many years but the story of a supplier’s collapse best illustrates his talents.

    A critical supplier for a major aircraft program had decided that it could no longer meet its contracted obligations for a particular device. Without this device we could not deliver our aircraft which would be a blow to our national defense as well as a significant impact to our company’s revenue. Although we had anticipated the problem and started a backup plan, we needed another year to bring the new supplier on-line. A team was established to salvage as much material as possible from the failed supplier to -we hoped- bridge the gap. Angelo was placed on the team to help expedite production of the needed device.

    As you can imagine morale at the failed supplier was very bad. The people would lose their jobs as soon as the work was completed and their skills were such that it was very unlikely they could find local jobs. In addition, the managers had made a number of errors that further alienated the work force.

    In steps Angelo. He doesn’t know the intricate physics behind the device or the complexities of its manufacturing process. But he does know people and how to work with them. Angelo goes to the production line and to the shipping areas. He brings donuts and flowers. He talks and jokes with workers and more important he listens to them. Angelo asks for a personal favor – could they get just this one device out before Tuesday? Who can resist the Mucci charm?

    Other companies are affected by this failure to delivery. They send in their teams to the failed company. They go to the president of the company and yell at him. They threaten him with enormous fines and jail if he does not honor a contract that he cannot honor.

    It is probably not difficult to figure out who was getting the equipment they needed and who wasn’t. One representative from another company complained to me that we never seemed to be as upset with the failed company as his company was. I said that Midwestern folk were just not as excitable; I certainly wasn’t going to tell him about Angelo.

    Angelo was so effective at sweeping up material and meeting our needs that we put him to helping the other companies. Angelo provided us with enough material to bridge the gap without a single delay in deliveries.

    Angelo, as much as he sometimes puts on a show otherwise, enjoys people and it shows in how they respond to him. He doesn’t have a degree in engineering but he could teach a doctoral course in people skills. I often wonder, when Angelo decides to leave us, where we will find the guy to go to when the production problem isn’t all technical when we need someone to talk a dispirited worker into going the extra mile.

    Don Wilkins

  8. Personality – Don’t be shy.  Be Frugal.  Provide good leadership, but be diplomatic about it.  Have courage to take action when all seems lost.  Smile, it goes a long way!
    Work Ethics – You can’t solve problems long distance, you gotta be there.   Be the first one in there in the morning and the last one to go home at night.  This shows the supplier how important getting your problem solved is to you.   It also makes you a part of their team in the suppliers eyes.  “Being on site allows you to talk to everyone with the problem.  You can get at the root cause and arrive at the most critical element – the TRUTH.”

  9. Dec 21, 2009, at 9:57 PM, Rick & Diane Vitale wrote:

    In his 80’s Angelo continues to amaze me, with his high energy, dry wit and of course, his incredible knowledge of aerospace.

    It’s hard to describe Angelo in a few words, but after reading this article, and through my brief opportunity to work with him from 2005-2006, I found Angelo to be a self-made man, a man of integrity and a family man coupled with a great dry sense of humor.

    As our Boeing Consultant, Angelo quickly made himself known to me as I started a new and difficult position as the Site Manager of Manufacturing at a Honeywell site experiencing typical industry issues with schedule.  Coming from a background of more than 15 years in low volume/high technology Space business, I was, as they say in aerospace, “drinking water through a fire hose” learning and leading this site’s manufacturing of Defense Avionics with little to no training.  With Angelo’s more than 60 years experience in avionics, he was quick to notice my work ethic, abilities and general interest in moving the site forward in my new position.  We initially clicked because of our similar work and ethnic backgrounds, but ultimately, he took on a role as a great mentor for me.

    The new position was difficult, and we were working hard to make the numbers as the organization was just through a buy-out and changing daily.  Angelo was well aware of the ups and downs of this business, and let me know how well I was doing, and where I could make improvements.  He gave me may ideas for success, and later, he gave me one of his articles, “The Angelo Way,” which helped me to understand the idiosyncrasies of this business, as well as see the humor in the day to day issues we faced.  After a few months, as things began to improve, and we started to meet,and then exceed the goals, he was quick to award me a Boeing Jet Pin, which I was honored to receive.

    Angelo had a way of mentoring you, and making you feel successful, while he also got what he needed for Boeing. I quickly became an honored member of his network, where we benefited from each other and I’d like to say,we became”family.”  In a visit to Boeing during my time at Honeywell, he paved the way for me with many of the Boeing brass in St Louis.

    Angelo has been to my house several times, and even as I have moved up from my position at Honeywell, we continue to maintain contact.  He has come to know, and work with my wife Diane, and at times, because of Angelo’s interesting and funny stories, I believe I have come to know his wife, Rose.

    I was happy to hear about Angelo’s article, and glad to provide some input to a great man of American aerospace!

     PS:  Angelo, if your reading this:  “Diane will be bringing in the cannoli’s tomorrow!”

    Richard R. Vitale
    Director of Operations – Digital Products
    Emcore Corporation

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