The 30 Billion Dollar Man
Seddik Belyamani wrote the book on selling passenger jets.
- By Bill Sweetman
- Air & Space magazine, July 2004
(Page 2 of 6)
Belyamani told a colleague from the contracts division to bring the final agreement (“boxes and boxes”) but carried in his own pocket a handwritten letter curtly revoking the original offer. (“Sometimes it helps to let your steam off,” he says.) At the house, “the chairman looks at me and he says: ‘Now then…’ ”
Belyamani said nothing. “I put my hand on my mouth”—a gesture that reminds him not to talk, he explains.
The next thing the chairman said was “Let’s sign.”
Says Belyamani: “If I had said one word, if I had said ‘Now what is the problem, Mr. Chairman?’ ” the chairman would have seized the opening and Boeing would have had to restart the negotiation. “The moral of the story,” Belyamani says, “is that there is a real person that signs the contract, not a computer, not an Excel spreadsheet.”
“I could tell you that I was fascinated with aviation from the age of five, but it wouldn’t be true,” Belyamani says with the slightest hint of an accent, partly from his upbringing in Morocco, where he was knighted twice by successive rulers, and also from his education in Toulouse, France, home of Boeing’s arch-rival, Airbus.
Bent on a career in electrical engineering building hi-fi systems, he was led by France’s education track into aeronautical engineering. In 1967 he returned to Morocco to join Royal Air Maroc, the nation’s international flag carrier, and in 1970 became vice president of maintenance. But after having lived in France it was hard to settle there.
After a year in Seattle overseeing the delivery of Royal Air Maroc’s first Boeing 727-200, Belyamani attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he developed mathematical models to predict the performance of an airline’s route network and earned a master’s degree. He took those math skills to Eastern Air Lines and didn’t like what he saw: After comparing Eastern’s fleet and routes to those of arch-rival Delta, he recalls, “I got bad vibes and called friends at Boeing.” Were there any openings, he asked?
In 1974, Belyamani was hired as an airline analyst in Seattle, his primary job being to back up the salesmen in the field. He soon got noticed. “We had a 747 that we were selling to an airline in Africa,” he says. “Everything was going smoothly until three months before delivery, and we found that the International Monetary Fund had imposed restrictions on their foreign debt and they couldn’t pay for the airplane.” If there is one thing airplane manufacturers hate, it’s a “white tail”—a completed airplane with no customer and no airline livery.