For good reason, the public has become cynical about CEOs. Many appear to see themselves principally as members of an executive elite--an increasingly mobile club whose members measure their pay and privileges against those of other CEOs. In the aerospace industry, 's travails in the executive suite have served only to deepen this cynicism, with some executives pontificating about one set of standards of behavior while following another.
Now Boeing has a new CEO--its third in less than two years, which speaks volumes about the punishing and humiliating turmoil the company and its thousands of employees have endured throughout that period. While there are no guarantees that W. James McNerney, Jr., will live up to his top billing both inside and outside the aerospace/defense industry, we suspect he will prove to be one of the most effective leaders Boeing has had in many years.
The timing couldn't be better. After years of scandal, along with a general corporate malaise, Boeing has solid momentum. It has a winner in the 787 medium-range jetliner, which has put rivalon the defensive. In March, the suspension of Boeing's space business from competition was lifted. And on the military side of the house, core programs such as the /F and transport couldn't be performing better.
It will take a proven leader like McNerney, with his reputation for strong program management skills and passion for innovation in product development, to sustain that momentum.
Senior Vice President-Finance James A. Bell, who was acting CEO until McNerney was chosen, deserves a round of applause for the job he did on an interim basis. Bell stepped into the breach and personally conveyed the message--convincingly--that enough is enough. Boeing's legacy culture seemed to be breeding turmoil and excess at every turn.
In many ways, McNerney was the safest of candidates. His performance at 3M--a technology leader in its own right--by all accounts was superb. Yet he knew the aerospace/defense industry intimately by virtue of his seat on the Boeing board and his track record of success atAircraft Engines. To hear suppliers, customers and members of the financial and investment community tell it, McNerney is the perfect choice--"the only choice," some insist.
But, of course, Boeing had to convince McNerney it was the right move for him. No doubt it was a combination of incentives-- the compensation package for sure; perhaps the fact that Boeing seems to have put its ethical problems behind it; maybe the belief that Boeing seems to have regained the trust of its largest customer--the U.S. government--and perhaps knowing that Boeing remains an icon among American industrial giants.
Whatever the combination, McNerney represents nothing if not a fresh start for Boeing. And we wish him well.