29th Jun 2012

Raymond Conner flying high at Boeing Commercial Airlines

The US multinational aerospace and defense company Boeing has announced Raymond Conner as the new CEO of its Commercial Airplanes division, the largest of its five business units with over 70,000 employees. Boeing itself is the largest exporter by value in the US, and its stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In terms of revenue and production the company is one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world.

Boeing’s main competitor in the $100-billion-dollar-a-year aircraft market is the European company Airbus, and Conner will be charged with recapturing Boeing’s lead after it lost more than half of its huge American Airlines contract to Airbus in July of last year. This was the first time AA went to a company other than Boeing to fill part of its order, and though AA spokespeople claimed the order was too big for one company to handle it was widely assumed the airline was worried about potential fallout from a long-term labour dispute at Boeing and decided to hedge its bets by splitting the contract in two.

Six months later, at the end of 2011, a landmark four-year pay deal between Boeing and the American Machinists Union resolved what had become one of the ugliest labour disputes in recent US history, and Boeing is now well placed to recover the ground it lost to Airbus. Orders for aircraft have risen sharply, and Boeing plans to increase aircraft output by one-third over the next three years to meet demand. On May 1 Boeing’s order book stood at a whopping 415.

Accelerating performance enough to deliver these planes will be the new CEO’s most urgent challenge, as he acknowledged in a memo to employees. “Our job going forward together in the near term is to stay on course on the product and services strategies that have resulted in our record backlog, and to turn up the gain on performance and execution to ensure we meet our commitments,” he said in the memo.

Raymond Conner, 57, signed on with Boeing in 1977 as a mechanic and rose to become head of sales. His new position as CEO is effective immediately, and came as a surprise when his predecessor Jim Albaugh decided to take early retirement. Officially Conner is an interim CEO and Boeing have said they will find a replacement for him at a later date. But he takes over at a decisive time for Boeing, and if he acts decisively in his temporary role there’s every chance it will turn out to be permanent. His first 100 days will be crucial – he needs to make an early impact and demonstrate his effectiveness in the role of CEO.

Hilda Goold

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