In what is been described as stunning and unexpected, Boeing announced a change in the leadership of its Commercial Airplanes business. Raymond J Conner, a 34 year veteran and former Vice President of Sales and Customer Support was appointed Chief Executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes yesterday.  James Albaugh, the former CEO of BCA has announced that he will retire on October 1st after 37 years at Boeing.

Conner has supply chain and operations management DNA, having served previously as Vice President of Supply Chain Management and Operations, General Manager of both the 777 and 747 programs, and last year, management lead in negotiating a four year extension with Boeing’s largest and most influential labor union. That is good news, since he will inherit a business that has struggled with multiple ongoing supply chain challenges related to various aircraft programs, most notably the 787 Dreamliner program.

The Boeing press release press release announcing this senior management change provides instant clues to perhaps why this leadership change, and why now.  Quote: “Ray’s breadth and depth of experience in commercial airplanes is unmatched in our industry,” said (Boeing CEO) McNerney.  “He has built airplanes, sold airplanes, serviced airplanes, managed our largest programs, knows our customers extremely well, and is respected by our employees. He is the natural next leader of our growing commercial airplanes business and this move is consistent with our executive succession plan.” (Our underline for emphasis)  We underlined these words since they often appear in the job description and requirements of many senior supply chain executives.

Boeing specifically adds in its announcement that Conner’s responsibilities also include “… overseeing development of Boeing’s new production and assembly facilities in South Carolina.” Our most recent Supply Chain Matters commentary related to Boeing  outlined the critical importance of this facility in overcoming the current three year production backlog related to the 787 program, and future BCA production ramp-up commitments for other aircraft programs.

As our various commentaries related to Boeing and current aerospace industry challenges have outlined, this industry needs leadership experienced and grounded in operations and supply chain management. A transfer of past supply chain learning, renewed emphasis on efficiency, agility and risk avoidance, along with consistent operational execution are all new table stakes for the industry. The fact that BCA has chosen an executive with these credentials is ample evidence, not to mention the sudden timing of this announcement.

There is certain to be other speculation related to the implications of significance, motivation and timing this executive leadership announcement. Suffice to state at this point that “change” seems to be a woven theme.

Bob Ferrari