Where Is Boeing’s CEO?

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Where is Boeing Co.’s (NYSE: BA) chairman, president and chief executive officer? W. James (Jim) McNerney Jr. has been the CEO of the airline manufacturer and defense supplier since July 1, 2005. The production and launch of the troubled 787 Dreamliner came on his watch. He made more than $62 million as the head of Boeing from 2009 through 2011. Yet, he let Mike Sinnett, vice president and 787 chief project engineer, defend Boeing’s flagship plane, which has had enough problems to cause deep concerns among regulators, airlines, passengers and the government.

McNerney will not go public to speak up for an aircraft that is essential to Boeing’s future, and that may damage its reputation, and share price, for a very long time.

Anyone who reads a newspaper or visits news websites knows that the Dreamliner has had problems lately, particularly with three planes. That has kept Boeing and the 787 on the front pages.

McNerney has been the company’s senior booster for the Dreamliner. At Boeing’s most recent shareholder meeting he said:

Pilots and passengers alike are welcoming the 787 enthusiastically in each and every city it visits. The 787 is helping to restore the magic of flight to the travel experience, and its dramatically improved environmental footprint plays a major role in that popularity.

Recent breakdowns of the plane almost certainly have dampened the enthusiasm and experience of the “magic of flight.”

There is a great deal to be said for a CEO’s role in defending his company’s products and services — in public. This is particularly true when the CEO has endorsed the same products or services without qualification in the past. McNerney has been the primary salesman for the plane to the world’s most prominent airlines. And he has approved the primary messages about the benefits of the plane to fliers.

But McNerney has disappeared, at least with regards to comments about the Dreamliner. He has let his public relations staff and a mid-level engineer explain why the 787 is still a superior product and a safe one. When the CEO is missing, comments from these employees are barely an endorsement of the Dreamliner at all.

Douglas A. McIntyre