Boeing Just Fired Its CEO

Boeing CEO Dennis Mullenburg, who had been stripped of the company’s Chairmanship in October, was fired and will be replaced as follows:

  • Board Chairman David Calhoun becomes Beoing’s CEO and President effective January 13, 2020.

  • Board member Larry Kellner, the Continental Airlines CEO who didn’t want to merge with United and was pushed out in favor of Jeff Smisek (who himself was pushed out in a corruption scandal), will become Boeing’s Chairman. I had previously speculated that he might become interim CEO.

Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith will become interim CEO until January 13 while Calhoun winds down conflicts and other obligations.

The Boeing 737 MAX grounding is expected to cost Boeing as much as $20 billion. The MAX was developed before Mullenburg became CEO, but his tenure includes the two years leading up to the plane’s first commercial launch. There are myriad problems identified in Boeing’s decision-making structure and culture during the course of the MAX’s grounding. A new CEO along doesn’t restore confidence in Boeing, it’s up to the CEO to change the culture.

Calhoun is former CEO of GE Infrastructure and Vice Chairman of GE, which in itself doesn’t suggest he’s well-suited for the role.

Kellner on the other hand worked alongside Gordon Bethune, himself a former Boeing executive, to turn around Continental before succeeding Bethune as Chairman and CEO. He joined the carrier as senior vice president and chief financial officer in 1995, became Executive Vice President a year later, and President in 2001.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary wrote: “Calhoun is former CEO of GE Infrastructure and Vice Chairman of GE, which in itself doesn’t suggest he’s well-suited for the role.” I agree with this statement. Calhoun also used to work for the Blackstone group (an investment/investment banking firm). Not sure if he has engineering or pilot background. He seems like a finance rather than an engineering person. At first blush, that is worrisome. However, he has been in the aerospace industry for a long time, so he may turn out to be more technically knowledgeable than is obviously evident from his background.

    Boeing still needs to make wholesale changes to its corporate culture (ie return Boeing to its engineering base), not just change the CEO. So we shall see what Calhoun actually does. For now, I am going avoid flying Boeing’s next generation 777x plane, until it has been proven safe through years of flying.

  2. I am on the same line as ‘One Mile At A Time’!

    Also, it is a start and a step in the right direction until they find the appropriate leadership.

  3. @Gary and Other

    Boeing is full of technical people. Technical people operating in silos is partially why they’re in this mess. This isn’t where they need help. They need a culture shift so they don’t find themselves in this mess again. And they need someone who is going to get the regulators out of their hair as soon as possible. Hiring a lifelong Aviation person who’s only familiar with the existing, flawed approach isn’t going to do it.

    Getting a life-long non-aviation executive is probably as far as the Boeing board felt comfortable going anyways. That person can rely on the technical people, and needn’t be technical themselves.

    And hey, at least it’s not Sully…

  4. Great engineering companies are run by engineers. I see Rockwell Collins which has a very distinct aerospace culture of safety first and hope Boeing can return to it. A Blackstone exec does not inspire confidence but then again this country values short term finance and corporate lobbying. I fully expect Boeing to need a federal bailout in a decade or so

  5. Too bad they could not get Alan Mulally to take over for a few years. I agree with you Gary how GE is not really the company you want to hire former executives from right now.

  6. Anyone think that the move from Seattle to Chicago is a big part of the problem? The execs are further away from the engineering and production that the company relies upon. And that excuse that Chicago was “closer to our customers” — I think the executive suite wanted to insulate themselves from the operational side by putting in physical distance.

  7. None of this matters. The seats are still getting smaller as they pack humans in like sardines. I don’t expect this to change and a new CEO isn’t going to fix the real problem, which is greed. Greed caused the crashes, as greed causes all the other problems. The industry says that free market will fix this problem but free market doesn’t apply in a case when every airline does the same thing and consumers don’t have a choice.

  8. David Calhoun won’t address the reasons they gave for firing Dennis since Calhoun has been on the board throughout the whole 737Max debacle. This is just a change of titles without introducing the new mindset needed to change the company culture and behavior.

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