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Politburo watching at Boeing

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Does Carson want to be remembered as the guy who "reset" the 787's schedule? That forgettable footnote will go into the dustbin of 787 history once the plane flies and becomes a success. Why didn't he stick around for first flight now scheduled for later this year? by John Dodge

I caught the tail section of the call with Boeing CEO Jim McNerney Monday and am trying to decide if Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Scott Carson was forced out as the 787 fall guy and if his handing the reins to Jim Albaugh is a good thing for the Dreamliner program. Fact is I don't know, but there are clues to suggest Carson did not leave the second most powerful position at Boeing on his own.

Here's what jumped out at me in the Monday's call with Boeing CEO Jim McNerney.

"Speed and accountability are Jim's hallmarks," McNerney said of Carson's successor Jim Albaugh.

Jim Albaugh moves in second top spot at Boeing.

Speed sounds like a scary thing in airliner development and as an experienced member of the flying public, I prefer the thorough approach. Speed smacks of Wall Street pandering. Accountability? That's corporate speak for get the job done fast and that's fine for most things, but again it implies rushing a job that shouldn't be.

Who's most important: the people who will fly in the plane or Boeing's stock price? Obviously, there's a happy medium that can be struck, but I am surprised McNerney said it the way he did. Was Carson going too slow? Did he drag his feet? Did he fail to get the job done?

McNerney continued: "The decision [for Scott] to retire was his own. It's very rarely a perfect time for a management change. [We were] guided by Scott's wishes. I had confidence that the time had arrived to reset the business." Well, which one was the change catalyst? Resetting the business or Scott's wish to retire? The statements would appear in conflict.    

Darn, I was used to Carson's baritone and patient voice on the calls about 787 problems and delays. Now I have to recognize another voice. There was no mistaking Scott's deep voice.

Carson could well have made his own decision to retire, but could he have kept his job at CEO and president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes? Was his option for staying was a kick upstairs like several 787 execs before him? He'd be a natural target given he was ultimately responsible for the 787 short of McNerney and the latter was not about to take the fall.

Wherever Carson would have gone within would have been a major comedown. Interestingly, Carson's pending departure is rearranging the deck chairs at Boeing: a link on Monday's to executive bios clearly denoting Boeing's pecking order in Monday's press release about Carson's retirement went to a blank page Wednesday morning. The page is back up with Albaugh occupying the second slot.  I seem to recall Carson was number three or four. Albaugh might have leapfrogged the company's CFO!

Here's another thing I don't quite understand: Does Carson want to be remembered as the guy who "reset" the 787's schedule? That forgettable footnote will go into the dustbin of 787 history once the plane flies and becomes a success. Why didn't he stick around for first flight now scheduled for later this year (A health issue can't be ruled out.)?

Scott Carson: he reset the 787

So who will take credit if all those 800 plus planes get sold with Boeing and its shareholders reaping years of profits? McNerney, of course.

The Seattle PI published a story citing aerospace analysts who think Carson wasn't pushed out. My question is what was he being pushed into.

The internal memo sent out by Jim Albaugh, who like Carson was also educated in Washington state, seems quite heartfelt. The most telling paragraph emphasized Boeing's engineering heritage which is significant because Carson came from the sales and finance side.

"In its soul, Boeing has always been and remains an engineering company. As an engineer I look forward to learning from and working with you. The heart of this company is the skilled machinists, technicians and mechanics -- true craftsmen and wizards -- who deliver on their promises everyday," he wrote.

Albaugh, an engineer, also spoke at length about being inspired as a youth looking into the sky and seeing 707s and B-52s overhead.

"Boeing did more to change the 20th century than any other company on Earth. Over the past 90 years, the men and women of this company have changed the way people travel and experience the world, the way we communicate, the way we protect freedom and democracy, and the way we look at our universe," he said.

That's pretty inspirational stuff. Albaugh's note on the whole shows he's genuinely excited about the company and what lies ahead. It's not an easy time at Boeing and rarely is. Carson, apparently, had his fill of it.

There's one other interesting footnote. I read where Carson was with Boeing for 41, 38 and 36 years. I chose the later number as reflected in his official Boeing bio.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure