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What Did We Know? What Did We Do?

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What Did We Know? What Did We Do?

Making Decisions in Large Organizations

Smart Business Books,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Instill ethics in your organization, make better decisions and prevent industrial tragedies.

Editorial Rating



  • Well Structured
  • Engaging
  • Insider's Take


Fred Herzner, engineer and head of GE’s flight safety program from 1995 to 2003, believes he might have been able to prevent the loss of 111 lives in a 1989 plane crash if he’d made one decision differently three decades ago. His lack of action has haunted him, leading to this personal investigation of how people and organizations make consequential decisions and how they might do better. Herzner provides an important warning to leaders to never grow complacent nor overvalue money, results or deadlines at the cost of ethics and safety. He offers a principles-based structure and a methodical strategy for making better decisions. Herzner’s heartfelt, honest guide speaks to all leaders whose decisions affect people’s health and safety. 


United Airlines Flight 232

On a gorgeous day in July 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 crash-landed in Iowa, killing 111 of the people on board. At the time, Fred Herzner was an engineering manager at GE, working on the kind of jet engine that powered the DC-10 that crashed. Herzner and his colleagues had worked on the specific engine part that broke and caused the crash.

Thus began his decades-long exploration of what his team did wrong and what he and others might have done differently. His investigation extends to how organizations make consequential decisions. Herzner found that when a bad decision leads to scandal or tragedy, most people in the affected organization express genuine shock and disbelief. Yet, invariably, some of them know what caused the disaster.

A disc in the GE engine in the tail of the DC-10 had cracked and broken into pieces. This should not have severely disabled the plane, which had two more engines over the wings. Unfortunately, the three hydraulic lines that control the aircraft were near each other and...

About the Author

Fred Herzner served as chief engineer and head of GE’s flight safety program from 1995 to 2003. Since retiring – and spurred by his involvement with the 1989 United Airlines Flight 232 disaster – he has focused on safety, organizational culture and the decision-making processes surrounding corporate ethics. 

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