Yesterday The New York Times published an interview with David Calhoun, Boeing’s new CEO. Obviously he has a huge task ahead of him, though I can’t help but feel like the quotes attributed to him paint him in a rather negative light.
I’m undecided as to whether he’s just being honest and this is a reflection of the state of things at Boeing, or whether it’s him. I wanted to share a few highlights.
Indirectly blaming pilots for 737 MAX crashes
Boeing has certainly in some ways tried to shift blame for the 737 MAX crashes, both officially, and through leaked company messages.
In the interview Calhoun is asked if he thinks American pilots would have been able to handle a malfunction of the software. He asked to speak off the record, but The New York Times refused to do so. He then said:
“Forget it. You can guess the answer.”
Clearly he thinks that ultimately the crashes wouldn’t have happened with US pilots.
Why he wouldn’t give up his salary
Calhoun has a rather controversial bonus structure, as he’s being given a $7 million bonus based in part on whether he can get the 737 MAX back into the sky. He dismissed concerns of that, saying:
“The objective is to get the Max up safely. Period.”
He was also asked why he didn’t elect to forgo his salary altogether, and said:
“Cause I’m not sure I would have done it.”
Throwing previous CEO under the bus
Calhoun has been on Boeing’s board for over a decade, and as recently as last November said his predecessor, Dennis Muilenburg “has done everything right” and shouldn’t resign.
Now he has a different explanation and take:
“Boards are invested in their C.E.O.s until they’re not. We had a backup plan. I am the backup plan.”
He now acknowledges that Muilenburg turbocharged production rates before the supply chain was ready, which sent Boeing shares to an all time high. He went on to explain:
“I’ll never be able to judge what motivated Dennis, whether it was a stock price that was going to continue to go up and up, or whether it was just beating the other guy to the next rate increase. If anybody ran over the rainbow for the pot of gold on stock, it would have been him.”
Boeing doesn’t have a culture problem
All kinds of internal Boeing emails and messages have emerged, which sure paint a pretty damning picture of the culture at Boeing. Calhoun doesn’t think the company has a systematic culture problem, though.
He acknowledged the messages were unacceptable, but also tried to downplay the issue:
“I see a couple of people who wrote horrible emails.”
There’s no doubt that Calhoun has his work cut out for him, and he has only been in his current role for several weeks. However, I can’t on balance help but feel like he comes across as rather unlikable.
I’m not sure if that’s just a reflection of Boeing as a company being viewed less favorable, or if it’s specific to Calhoun.
What do you make of the interview with Boeing’s new CEO?