Pontifications: “Boards are invested in their C.E.O.s until they’re not.”

By Scott Hamilton

March 12, 2024, © Leeham News: Loss of confidence in Boeing’s leadership from its customers is growing, according to industry sources.

It’s not just with the leadership at Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA), where CEO Stan Deal is under increasing pressure to fix a growing number of problems. Leadership at the corporate level of The Boeing Co. is also losing confidence from airlines and lessors.

Some airlines and lessors, most of whom want to remain anonymous to speak freely, want the departure of David Calhoun in addition to Deal and others in top leadership. In the past, most fingers were pointed at Deal and the leadership of BCA.

An increasing number of customers want Calhoun, the CEO of The Boeing Co., and others in the corporate leadership, also gone.

Tim Clark, the president of Emirates Airline, publicly criticized Boeing leadership many times. But he’s always avoided naming names in the public domain.

Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, was not so reticent. Many times, he’s criticized the leadership of “Seattle” (a thinly veiled reference to Deal and his key people). But O’Leary generally defended Calhoun.

The latest series of Boeing anomalies and delivery delays prompted more customers to privately call for sweeping changes.

And, the New York Times reported that the six-week audit by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found Boeing failed to follow proper procedures 37% of the time.

What happened to all the pledges by Boeing to improve safety after the 2018-19 MAX crashes that killed 346 people?

The buck stops with the CEOs of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and The Boeing Co.

“Massive” changes needed

David Calhoun, CEO of The Boeing Co.

Privately, some airlines assert that massive changes are needed at the top of Boeing to remedy problems and to reset the company’s course. “You can’t just tinker with things,” the CEO of one customer says. “You’re going to have to come up with something major.”

Leaving Deal in place isn’t the solution, this CEO says. Calhoun also must go. But who’s going to replace them?

Stephanie Pope, the EVP and COO of The Boeing Co.

There is a view that Boeing’s is a thin bench when it comes to executive succession. Shortly before the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 accident that become the leading incident to Boeing’s current string of crises, Stephanie Pope was named EVP and COO of The Boeing Co. She had been CEO of Boeing Global Services (BGS).

Upon her appointment, nobody LNA consulted understood why she was named to her new position. She was unknown to most. Her long history at Boeing was in finance and not operations. She was named CEO of BGS when Stan Deal was named CEO of BCA. Deal was described as her mentor.

But Pope has been nowhere to be seen during the current set of crises; Calhoun has been the “face” of Boeing. (One person suggested that Calhoun didn’t want Pope tainted with the current 737 MAX crisis.)

Succeeding Deal

Ihssane Mounir is one named mentioned to succeed Stan Deal.

Stan Deal, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Who would succeed Deal? Ihssane Mounir is one name that’s been suggested to LNA. Mounir is a career BCA employee who worked his way up to the top sales position before being named last year to the head of the BCA supply chain. The latter is a position Deal held before becoming CEO of BGS.

But Mounir is not a popular choice with some customers. And some former sales and marketing people, now retired, criticized Mounir as arrogant and unreceptive to differing viewpoints.

Elizabeth Lund may be a contender to succeed Stan Deal as CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Elizabeth Lund is a well-regarded, long-term Boeing employee. She was recently named SVP of Quality for BCA and chair of the Enterprise Quality Operations Council. Lund also served on the executive council. She now has the unenviable job of being the liaison with the Federal Aviation Administration and fixing things between Boeing and the FAA.

Lund previously was SVP and general manager of Airplane Programs for Commercial Airplanes, overseeing the 737, 747, 767, 777/777X and 787 programs. Before this, she was program manager for several of the individual 7-Series programs.

Shanahan’s return?

Pat Shanahan is another name mentioned as a possible successor to Deal. Shanahan was a career Boeing employee, including a stint at Boeing’s defense unit. Before leaving Boeing to become deputy defense secretary under President Donald Trump, Shanahan was SVP of Airplane Programs.

After leaving the Pentagon, Shanahan retired and was eventually named to the board of Spirit AeroSystems. Last year, the board fired CEO Tom Gentile following yet another quality control issue on the 737 fuselage, which Spirit manufactures for Boeing. Shanahan was named Interim CEO with a widely expected one year tenure.

Pat Shanahan, ex-Boeing, has been mentioned as a successor to Stan Deal or even David Calhoun. But he’s got a job fixing key supplier Spirit AeroSystems.

Shanahan certainly knows Boeing, BCA and now Spirit. He would be, on paper, an excellent choice to become CEO of BCA. In some minds, he’s a good candidate to become CEO of The Boeing Co. But having just been named CEO of Spirit to fix problems there, leaving to join Boeing would be premature.

And at age 61, Shanahan’s tenure at Boeing would be short. Sixty-five is the mandatory retirement age for executives, although the board could grant a waiver; it’s done so for Calhoun.

Replacing Calhoun

David Gitlin, mentioned as a possible successor to David Calhoun.

Who would replace Calhoun?

Two members of the Boeing board have been repeatedly mentioned: David Gitlin and Steven Mollenkopf.

Gitlin, 52, is currently chairman and CEO of Carrier Global Corp. Carrier is a non-aviation company once owned by United Technologies Corp (UTC), now RTX Corp. But he also served as president of UTC’s Collins Aerospace Systems and UTC Aerospace Systems and at Hamilton Sundstrand, another aerospace company. Gitlin was named to the Boeing board in 2022. He could serve as Boeing CEO for 13 more years if named this year.

Mollenkopf, 56, comes from outside the aerospace industry. He’s the retired CEO of Qualcomm. A board member from 2020, he could serve nine years before hitting the mandatory retirement age.

Steven Mollenkopf, also mentioned as a possible successor to David Calhoun.

Insider or Outsider?

But some customers believe an outsider is needed. There are pros and cons to either an insider or an outsider.

But sentiment suggests an untainted, fresh set of eyes is needed. Someone from an aerospace company like Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman was suggested, though no names were mentioned.

But replacing Calhoun “is what the airlines are talking about,” one observer says. “People are telling me that there’s no credibility with the airlines or other key stakeholders, like the finance community, of putting anybody in charge who’s already in the picture.”

Boeing’s Board of Directors is notoriously supportive of its CEO. Calhoun, who was chairman of the board and Lead Director, knows this only too well. The board backed CEO Dennis Muilenburg right up until it didn’t, Calhoun himself noted during the 2018-19 MAX crisis. Muilenburg was fired in December 2019; the board named Calhoun, who was chairman at the time, Muilenburg’s successor as president and CEO.

“Boards are invested in their C.E.O.s until they’re not,” Calhoun told the New York Times in a March 5, 2020, interview, one of his first after taking office the preceding January.

These are words that may come back to haunt Calhoun.

67 Comments on “Pontifications: “Boards are invested in their C.E.O.s until they’re not.”

  1. Everything crossed for an outsider Chairman and new Board members, all prepared to hold feet to the fire. And be in first to ensure Calhoun, Deal etc et replaced well and that the new Chairman and Board members are clearly responsible for the choice of replacements.

    • An outsider would be good. But whowould this board pick as an outsider, another GE hedge fund guy?
      Funny comment from Aboulafia recently regarding Shanahan’s ascent to the top of Spirit: “…he’s not a hedge fund guy slumming it in aerospace. ”
      Golly, I wonder who could have had in mind?

    • Not sure that holding feet to the fire is the right thing for a new Chairman / board to do. It’s the old Chairs / boards that have been at the root of the problems, going back to Stonecipher and his “We’re going to make Boeing a business, not an engineering organisation” approach.

      A new Chair / board can get the right behaviours by correctly mentoring, instructing and incentivising the remnants of the organisation, pruning rigorously where necessary. If they want to adopt something more akin to the Toyota approach to right quality at the right price, that starts first and foremost with the Chair.

      The first thing they’d have to do ditch production quantity targets throughout the entire company and down into the supplier base. They’ve got to remove money as a factor in the decisions they take from now on. If they get the quality right, and get into the habit of deliverying quality consistently, the production quantities will eventually look after themselves.

      They’ve probably got precious little to lose. If the FAA does stop production, it’s not like there’s going to be a share price to defend anyway, nor is there customer orders to deliver (they can’t). They may as well do the “right” thing for a change whilst it doesn’t matter with whatever resources are left available to the company.

      Thing is, it can actually be hugely motivating up and down the company, and in suppliers. If allowed, nay, encouraged, rewarded for building just one aircraft “right” without regard to time / money, with everyone knowing they’re doing it right (finally, at last), you’ve turned a corner.

  2. First up, select someone with a deep understanding of the aviation design and manufacturing processes. Secondly, that person must know how to pull all the separate disciplines together and lead them.
    Thirdly, that person must have integrity beyond reproach. Finally, that person has to look right. Good luck.

  3. Slightly off topic – yet related – is the very recent 787-9 LATAM issue on a flight from Australia to Auckland when the glass cockpit is said to have gone blank for a period, leading to abrupt loss of control.
    Software or hardware?
    Yet another quality control issue?
    Perhaps the Board should try and get an Airbus exec to jump ship?

    • I don’t think a European choice would be the right move.

      Anyone off the Boeing board would be a massive failure as well.

      The job is hard enough without the cultural differences between the two.

      Mercedes took over Chrysler and it was a disaster. The flip is Fiat took over Chrysler (there is a theme here) and its worked. Of course Fiat was a joke for many years. Go figure.

      So regardless, it has to be someone with wide experience in dealing with disparate entities . Disciplined but not caught up in its my way or the highway. A good manager that does thinks differently is still a good manager.

      Its not just BCA as critical as that, its also the defense side and the space side.

      It does not have to be an aviation field background.

      It does need someone who has worked in complex manufacturing of limited number high value items.

      It does not have to be an engineer though that has a plus. As we saw with Muilenberg, engineer is not enough and it can’t be a water boy for the Board. The Boards has to select and then back to the hilt an effective manager and drop them like a hot rock if they prove inept.

      • Essentially a new CEO has to put engineering on equal footing with marketing. No hedge fund inspired MBA types that worship the GE model that cuts and outsources and looks for 100’s of millions of dollars in bonuses whether he gets the job done or not. A human being with a sense of fair-play and honesty. Someone who loves aerospace, transportation – more of a nerd than a bean-counter. He doesn’t have to play golf or have a sailboat. Does this type of person still exist in the corporate aerospace World? Probably, but he might not be as easy to find. He might be the diamond in the rough.

        • T.H.A.T. exactly, like going back from Stonecipher to John McDonnell.

        • And keep in mind, Bill Boeing was a lumber guy, not an engineer.

          Bill Allen was an attorney.

          Its about managing people and not engineers (bless them) – its nice bonus for a leg up if its an engineer, aka Mulally, but it does not HAVE to be.

          • Muilenberg was an aeronautical engineer !

            Business model has changed since the old Boeing engineering run shambles days- remember they time they stopped airliner production
            completely in late 90s for almost a month as it was chaotic.

            What engineers or MBAs cant change is the low level of individual honesty amoung the managerial class.
            Company Politics is the be all now

          • I was going to mention someone like Allan Mulally also. Boeing should have never let him get away. The man has all the skills to bring Boeing back to life. That’s the type of person Boeing needs: knows the business and is a topflight engineer. This isn’t going to be easy.

      • Mercedes take over of Chrysler wasn’t a desaster on all levels. The German CEO and other high ranking members of Mercedes could adapt their wages to US standards.

    • Are there no back -up old-fashioned little round dials available someplace on the panel? Do today’s pilots have any requirement to know how to use them?
      What would happen if the TV screens stayed off?

      • I’m no commercial aviator but close to some who are. Without instrumentation, the position of the thrust levers and knowing the aircraft’s attitude will allow a pilot to continue to fly the aircraft straight and level. Not so easy at night without a horizon but in daylight you could even put it safely on the ground.

        • My question was whether there were still small standby round dials. Not whether in clear daylight with a horizon they should not have lost control with a failure of the “tv” instruments. So far no enlightenment from the many here gathered who must know the answer.

      • When the 767 was brand new, Canada was converting to the metric system. Because of this, a broken fuel measurement system, and some bad assumptions, a 767 ran out of gas at altitude. And their TV screens went dark, and stayed dark.

        • That was different. The captain flew the plane, got it down pre/y much unscathed, no injuries at all as I recall. This one stories suggest screens go blank and the crew lost control. Still no enlightenment … or during recent travels haveI missed some revelation?

  4. This will be the second time Deal will be thrown under the bus, so to speak. I retired from BGS while Deal was CEO there. My manager thought that Deal was a credible CEO. BGS did well under his tenure. I remember Scott writing something to the effect that when Deal was brought over to BCA, he was thrown into a pool of sharks.

  5. ON quality from Times

    “For the portion of the examination focused on Boeing, the FAA conducted 89 product audits, a type of review that looks at aspects of the production process. The plane maker passed 56 of the audits and failed 33 of them, with a total of 97 instances of alleged noncompliance, according to the presentation.

    The FAA also conducted 13 product audits for the part of the inquiry that focused on Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the fuselage, or body, of the 737 Max. Six of those audits resulted in passing grades, and seven resulted in failing ones, the presentation said. ”

    That sounds more like Ford -Edsel of old- but one could always call a tow truck or park or get a ride.

    Or like GE currently — The welch mcDummy virus is very deep. Wouldnot be surprised if FAA totally stops production of all commercial. Lack of experience might- repeat might be helped by using “3 person ” slots in about 4 or 5 executive- management posistions in- on factcry floor to make or enforce work to plan on floor and first or second tier suppliers and to reduce issues of reporting defects in process-Clean up somehow the ‘ ethics ‘ depts.
    Just my .0000003 cents.

    • Boeing ‘pressure’ strikes again —

      Barnett was found dead in his truck in a hotel parking garage. He had been scheduled to answer questions the same day, but did not show for the meeting, according to the news outlet.
      WCBD reported that he was from Louisiana and that police are investigating.
      “Detectives are actively investigating this case and are awaiting the formal cause of death, along with any additional findings that might shed further light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Barnett,” Sgt. Anthony Gibson from the Charleston Police Department said.
      “We understand the global attention this case has garnered, and it is our priority to ensure that the investigation is not influenced by speculation but is led by facts and evidence. Given the sensitive nature of the investigation, we are unable to participate in media interviews at this time. This stance is not unique to this case but is a standard procedure we adhere to in order to preserve the integrity of active investigations,” Gibson added.Barnett was a Boeing quality manager who had questioned issues at the company’s plant in South Carolina where the 787 Dreamliners were built.
      He retired in 2017 after over 30 years with the company, The New York Times reported in 2019.
      He said he had found metal shavings near the flight control electrical system, claiming that it could have “catastrophic” results if the shavings got into the wiring, the Post reported.
      Barnett told The New York Times that he alerted his supervisors repeatedly but was ignored and transferred to another part of the plant. He eventually filed a whistleblower complaint against Boeing with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA eventually issued a rule that metal shavings be removed from all 787s before delivery.
      The agency had inspected planes that Boeing had said were clear of the fragments but said inspectors found shavings.
      Boeing told The New York Times that safety issues that are discovered are “immediately investigated and changes are made whenever necessary.”
      The Times investigation was published in 2019 after two deadly crashes of 737 Max airplanes.
      Other employees also filed whistleblower complaints, the newspaper found.
      Barnett also told other media outlets about other issues with Boeing airplanes.
      BBC reported that he told them there were issues with the aircraft’s oxygen systems that could result in the air masks not working in an emergency, adding that workers were pressured to meet production targets and installed substandard parts to meet demands. Boeing denied Barnett’s allegations.
      Barnett, despite no longer working for Boeing continued to speak out about the company’s aircraft. He spoke with TMZ in January after a doorplug on an Alaska Airlines jet blew out midflight. He said the company was returning the 737 Max 9s into service too quickly.
      Boeing responded to Barnett’s death, telling Fox News in a statement, “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

    • “Would not be surprised if FAA totally stops production of all commercial.”

      You never know…

  6. Will there really be change at the top, and if so, will it be an improvement?

    • I have been saying that for a long time.

      We don’t know until it after it happens.

      • “Boeing is a huge mess …”
        but I haven’t seen any sign it has the underlying capability to correct itself.

  7. From CNBC:
    “Many of the problems fell under the category of failure to follow “approved manufacturing processes” and failure to keep proper quality control documentation, according to the Times.

    Is this what they call “innovation”??

    ‘A document reviewed by the Times found that a mechanic at Spirit used a hotel key card to check a door seal. In another instance, the FAA reportedly saw Spirit mechanics apply liquid Dawn soap to a door seal to use as a lubricant in the “fit-up process.”

    • ” Spirit mechanics apply liquid Dawn soap to a door seal to use as a lubricant in the “fit-up process.”

      Well Dawn is safe for cleaning oil off ducks- and ducks fly ..
      So should be safe on planes- and planes fly.
      but since dawn is expensive- maybe the cheaper lube was specifiec which didn’t work.

      Lets have a Dawn patrol !

      • Or…, maybe the use of Dawn was used to pressure check the seal when applying internal air pressure to check for leaks around the seal. There are two sides to a story… maybe.

      • I have used dish soap more than once on tires. Works a treat, great lube action fore those nasty narrow cycle rims with the fat tires.

        It also does a bang up job on black powder residue.

  8. Southwest Airlines cuts capacity, and rethinks 2024 financial forecast, citing Boeing problems

    *Southwest said it would reevaluate its 2024 financial forecast because of Boeing’s delivery delays this year.
    *Airline CEOs have been frustrated by repeated setbacks at Boeing that have delayed deliveries of new planes.
    *Boeing is facing a quality control crisis in the wake of a blown fuselage panel on an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this year.

    Southwest shares were down more than 12% in morning trading.

  9. Anyone that you can bring externally with the relevant experience, won’t they have a non-compete clause in their contract?

  10. I don’t think we’ll see a change in leadership until the Ivy League theorists put forth a solution that can actually be implemented (it there is such a thing, I have my doubts). There’s no sense in more shuffling if no positive change will result.

  11. Now Southwest must regret not choosing the A220 over the 737-7.

    Not that the situation would have been much better, but at least risks would have been spread out and some planes would have come.

    On the CEO-front, in the end, all this is all in the hands of the shareholders through what the Board thinks will please them.

    In that light, I see no shareholder supporting years of restructuring without immediate returns.
    *Pulls out crystal ball*
    They’d rather bite the bullet, sell the shares at a loss and invest the remainder in nVidia or in anything for that matter.

    This would kill market cap and make Boeing a target for M&A.

    Only at that stage, can I see a deep restructuring happening: through integration into a (hopefully) more healthy structure. It would also be an opportunity to prune the portfolio from toxic programs such as VC-25B.

    But before they are cash strapped and on their knees begging, I don’t see that happening. And when it does finally happen, it won’t be pretty.

    Who would be the candidates to create a US aerospace mammoth ?
    Lockheed ? RTX ?

    • I do not want to see more concentration of resources / power.
      We’re headed way too far in that direction already; perhaps

    • Well it gives them time to get everything else ready to go.

      No worries mate.

  12. Alan Mulally busy? He’s older but has a track record and deep knowledge.

    • Ben, I totally agree with you. He’s 78 now and probably enjoying life. Great engineer and knows the business inside and out.

  13. “United Tells Boeing to Stop Making Its Long Delayed Max 10s
    Planemaker has agreed to build Max 9s instead, CEO Kirby says
    Airline confirms it’s in talks to substitute some Airbus A321s” source Bloomberg

    • United Airlines Holdings has told Boeing to stop building 737 MAX 10 jets for the carrier, opting to switch to a smaller variant and the rival Airbus A321 until the U.S. planemaker can pull the stretched single-aisle through its long-delayed certification.

      “We’ve asked Boeing to stop building MAX 10s, which they’ve done, for us and start building MAX 9s,” United CEO Scott Kirby said Tuesday at a JPMorgan investor conference. “It’s impossible to say when the MAX 10 is going to get certified.”

      Once the MAX 10 gets clearance to operate, United will switch back to the MAX 10, Kirby said. The United CEO confirmed earlier Bloomberg reports that the airline is looking to swap out some of its massive order for 277 MAX 10s to use the A321 instead, offering the European plane-maker the rare opportunity to seize an important piece of business from its chief rival.

      • I hear that Boing MAX-10 certification is right around the corner, right along with their MAX-7 and 777-X.

      • Not quite sure it’s a rare opportunity , at least in the NB area. Think Jet2, AF/KLM etc.

  14. The two things I see possibly making a difference at Boing:

    1) Revocation of Production Certificates (near-zero chance of that happening)

    2) Well selected C-suite types Going to Jail, as should have happened during Boing’s MAX MCAS debacle (same as above: Not Gonna Happen).

    This is what Cultural Collapse looks like: well-protected
    Elites; suffering masses; PR overlay no longer working..

    • One other cultural marker that could make a difference
      is if the sweetheart Deferred Prosecution Agreement
      that Boing was able to finagle re: the 737MAX was revisited, and revoked.

      That’s not gonna happen either, is my prediction- though there might well be some more theatre around that notion.

    • There were two 787 final assembly lines. They just closed Everett, and didnt send something to Charleston that was already there. It is also next door to the main 787 fuselage production plant. The largest fuselage section for the 787-10 couldnt be sent to Everett as its too big for the 747 transport planes.
      That was the reason for the shutdown of the Everett line- plus the big fall in production from 12 + per month down to 4 or so.

      • 787 production in WA was ended to break the Union, period- it’s been well documented, including here.

        Now Boing builds all of ’em in Charleston, then sends
        ’em to WA to be fixed before delivery.


  15. from Aviation Week “The U.S. Air Force has pushed back the in-service date by about another year for the Boeing T-7 Red Hawk to 2028, adding further delays to a program originally expected to be fielded this year”

    • Because the Congress chaos in the budgeting.

      They are doing it all over military programs…. its really a smoke and mirrors as the Congress will restore the cut programs via its later ‘wish list’

  16. Unless the Board changes, nothing changes. Outside of Bankruptcy that is not going to happen. The government has no mechanism to change private corporation boards, and that is a good thing. Or a merger.

    • Mergers are fraught. Mostly, no one pays much attention to culture, focussing instead on layoffs. Culture is king and must not be ignored. If it’s ignored, it will destroy the merged entity.

  17. Not sure a merger with a big Defense contractor is a good idea either. Looking at Textron and General Dynamics civilian products, there are mostly updated air frames. Isn’t that the big criticism with Boeing? That would not change merged with those corporations. Northrop does a good job with its new projects such as the new winged bomber. Easier when someone else is helping foot the R&D bill and promises to buy the end product.

    Not many good merger suitors out there. You are stuck with the same Boeing board.

  18. When a company says the 2024 bonus incentive structure is going to incentivise Safety & Quality and BCA has Safety @ 10% compared to Free Cash Flow @ 20%… BDS is even worse with Safety @ 10% and FCF @ 37.5%!

  19. Again, many here want the board to “fire” themselves, and its not going to happen. The closest the Board came to reorganizing was when the MAX disaster started and a sizeable number of the board was replaced.

    Why entrenched institutional stock holders (those who can really effect change) do not expect better is beyond me.

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