The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) 787 Dreamliner debacle is a gift that keeps on giving, going back to the initial launch date of the aircraft and the many times that date was missed. CEO Jim McNerney, who took his position in July 2005, also has given shareholders an underperforming share price, another reason for the Boeing board to dismiss him.
Boeing’s stock has moved higher by 18.3% since McNerney became chief executive. But the S&P 500 rose 21.5% in the same time. Most of Boeing’s best performance over that period was between early 2006 to mid-2008, when trouble with Dreamliner delays had not yet become severe.
After months, and even years, of ignoring McNerney’s weaknesses, the press suddenly has taken an interest, spurred by mechanical issues that have taken the Dreamliner out of service.
The stakes are high for the 63-year-old McNerney. His job may depend on whether and how soon he can resolve questions about the Dreamliner’s safety and win government approval for airlines to start flying the plane again.
The observation is tardy, as is the board’s reaction to the 787 disaster.
If the 787 problem does prompt a reorganization of Boeing management, the board will receive plaudits from some for having addressed concerns about quality control and production schedules. But those problems are already years old. The more pertinent question is why the board has gone so long without action.
One explanation for the board’s inaction when it comes to McNerney’s tenure is that some directors have been with the company for as long or longer than he has, and therefore share much of the blame. The finest example of this is lead director Ken Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff, who has been on the board since 1997. Another is Linda Cook, who has been on the board since 2003. Mike Zafirovski has been on Boeing’s board since 2004, and he served with McNerney as an executive at General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE).
McNerney should not escape responsibility for the Dreamliner disaster. The board should handle the matter now, in part because it is a reflection of their own past incompetence, and therefore, a chance to atone for their own mistake.