Boeing Banks on Albaugh To Find “Handle” On 787

 - September 28, 2009, 12:36 PM

The technical and logistical nightmare that manifested itself in a two-and-a-half-year delay of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner cost the company not only development money and market value, but credibility among its customer base and the industry at large. Only Scott Carson himself and a few insiders know whether or not it also cost the 63-year-old his job as head of Boeing’s commercial airplanes business, but the choice of former Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) head Jim Albaugh to assume his role appears to reflect something of a shift in management philosophy if not a conscious move by the brass in Chicago to entrust the division to a more technically rooted individual.  

On paper at least, Albaugh brings to Boeing Commercial Airplanes the engineering background Carson did not and, perhaps, the thinking goes, a set of skills better suited to steering a technically troubled program through the final stages of its preparation for first flight and subsequent certification. In fact, Boeing Company CEO Jim McNerney stressed for the record that “the decision to retire was Scott’s,” but the chief executive did seem to project a sentiment that the shakeup presented an opportunity of sorts.   

“I think it’s no secret that we have struggled with program execution and functional oversight of that programmatic execution,” said McNerney, two days after Carson’s retirement announcement, at the Morgan Stanley Global Industrial’s Unplugged conference. “It’s not that we got away from engineering. I think it’s the disciplines around program management which at its heart has engineering, and Jim Albaugh can go very deep technically. But he has been managing hundreds of highly technical programs for the last eight years at IDS, and that’s exactly what BCA needs right now. We’ve got 60,000 very talented engineers out there. The issue is bringing them together in a disciplined management process. That’s where we’ve lost the handle a little bit.”

Whether Albaugh can find the proverbial handle remains a matter of debate, but the proof will come in the coming months, as he and his team work to restore the company’s eroded credibility by doing exactly what headquarters in Chicago and the airlines expect–deliver the 787 on time and with a minimum of caveats.