Boeing’s CEO search hits some turbulence

Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in March he would step down by the end of the year. (AP)
Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in March he would step down by the end of the year. (AP)

Summary

Several high-profile candidates have turned down the chance to run Boeing, complicating the jet maker’s search for a new leader.

Several high-profile candidates have turned down the chance to run Boeing, complicating the jet maker’s search for a new leader amid discussions about whether the next CEO needs to be based near its Seattle-area factories.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in March he would step down by the end of the year. GE Aerospace CEO Larry Culp, widely considered a natural for the job, declined Boeing’s request to consider taking over, said people familiar with the discussions.

Other potential candidates—Boeing’s operating chief Stephanie Pope and Spirit AeroSystems boss Pat Shanahan—face complications on their path to the top job, while one of the company’s own directors, aerospace veteran David Gitlin, also declined an approach.

Calhoun heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to testify before a Senate panel in a face-off that promises to underscore the thorny nature of the job Boeing is trying to fill. He is expected to be questioned on everything from mounting whistleblower allegations to the chain of events that led to January’s near catastrophe in which a piece of fuselage blew off a Boeing 737 while in flight.

Calhoun’s successor will have to deal with those issues, while rooting out ingrained quality problems that have led to massive production delays and drawn the ire of airline customers, federal regulators and investors.

Some of the discussions have included whether the next leader should be based near Boeing’s manufacturing plants in the Seattle area that make 737s and other jets, some of the people said. Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001, and in 2022, the company announced plans to move the main offices to Arlington, Va. It has a factory in South Carolina that produces 787s.

The executive search is being handled by recruiting and advisory firm Russell Reynolds and Boeing’s recently appointed Chairman Steven Mollenkopf, a former Qualcomm chief executive. Among the scenarios that have been discussed is having Mollenkopf step into the CEO role for a transition period, especially if the company is aiming for an internal candidate like Pope to take over, the people said.

Culp, GE’s first-ever outsider CEO who rehabilitated the industrial giant, was a favorite of investors and suppliers. He’s known as a guru in the world of lean manufacturing, a management philosophy focused on cutting waste while continuously improving quality.

Culp has said publicly that he intends to stay at GE Aerospace, which has shed its other businesses to focus on making jet engines used in Boeing and Airbus planes.

Gitlin, the current CEO of manufacturer Carrier Global, said on an earnings call in April that he told Boeing’s board to remove him from the list of potential contenders. Gitlin’s relative youth, his success at Carrier and years spent at United Technologies made him an attractive candidate.

Pope was named Boeing’s chief operating officer in December, beating out other internal candidates. Boeing put Pope in charge of the troubled commercial airplane unit after the Alaska Airlines accident.

Calhoun has called the assignment trial by fire. But Pope, a 30-year Boeing veteran, must contend with calls, coming from investors, airline customers and some politicians, for Boeing to pick an outsider. Pope also has a background in finance, while some insiders and observers are lobbying for a CEO with engineering credentials.

Shanahan spent three decades at Boeing, where he earned a reputation as an operational fixer. Last year he took over as CEO of troubled fuselage supplier Spirit AeroSystems. He’s an engineer by training and was acting defense secretary for six months under President Donald Trump.

Shanahan has held discussions with Boeing about the CEO job, but the talks are largely on hold as Boeing negotiates to take over Spirit.

Spirit also makes parts for Boeing rival Airbus. The future of those operations had been the main sticking point in the sale, but Spirit and Airbus have since worked out key issues, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Airbus said in a statement Monday that it is in early stage negotiations with Spirit over options for its programs with the supplier, which include potentially acquiring Spirit operations that make Airbus parts.

Boeing executives have said they hope to have a deal by the end of June.

Write to Emily Glazer at Emily.Glazer@wsj.com and Sharon Terlep at sharon.terlep@wsj.com

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