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As a Boeing shareholder myself, I've railed for months over the company's inexplicable (and indefensible) inability to come to a fair agreement with its workers. I've warned of the company's looming cash crisis. Criticized management's failure to execute. Blasted the firm for its failure to keep its promises. And now the man responsible for this mess -- Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) CEO Scott Carson -- is getting the boot.
Good news, right? Well, maybe it is, in a sense. Over his 40-plus years at Boeing, Carson has had his share of successes and failures. He proved an incredible salesman, selling nearly 1000 Dreamliners to customers around the globe while heading up the sales force from 2004 to 2006.
But once charged with actually building the thing, Carson dropped the ball. Delta (NYSE: DAL ) , Continental (NYSE: CAL ) , AMR (NYSE: AMR ) -- all these customers and more stepped up to the plate and offered to deliver Boeing a home run. Their reward has been two years of delays and excuses. Similarly, suppliers Honeywell (NYSE: HON ) , United Tech (NYSE: UTX ) , Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR ) and others have been left twiddling their thumbs, waiting on Boeing, which failed to get its house in order.
And now Carson's gone. Allegedly, he left of his own accord (Boeing praised Carson for his "long record of accomplishment" and described the departure as a voluntary "retirement"). But as Fool member memoandstich quipped last night: "no one wants to retire before the most ambitious commercial project is completed ... unless you fear you'll never be able to retire."
I agree. Carson got the boot.
And we got ...
... Boeing Integrated Defense Solutions boss Jim Albaugh, who will move over to run BCA in Carson's stead.
Now, you can argue that this is an improvement. Albaugh's defense unit has done a fine job navigating the new Pentagon world order in recent months. Faced with defense program cuts here at home, he's fought tooth and nail to shoehorn Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet into the Navy's budget, and helped open the Indian market to Boeing defense products as well.
Choose your babysitter wisely
But here at the Fool, our memories are longer than that. Albaugh headed Boeing IDS, and was allegedly involved (a charge he disputes) in Boeing's 2003 tanker-leasing scandal, which ended up costing the company millions in fines paid to the government -- and no leasing contract.
In Round 2 of the tanker saga, he came within a whisker of handing the KC-X contract to its archrival last year. Albaugh's fumble landed the company in the middle of an expensive PR war with Northrop Grumman, costing the company additional millions, achieving nothing more than a stalemate and ... so far, again resulting in no contract win.
Now, maybe Carson didn't do the best job raising the 787 from infancy to adulthood, but he's spent five years living, eating, and breathing this project. There's no one who knows it better. Yet now, Boeing's decided to take away Carson's baby and give it to Albaugh.
I have to admit, Fools, that while I agree a change was in order, I'm not sure this is the right one. Putting Albaugh in charge of the 787 is like hiring Octomom to watch your kids.
A better choice
But assuming Carson has to go -- that he's lost control of the program (and he has), and that investors have lost faith in him (which we have), then who is the right man for the job?
The short answer is: "I don't know." I don't have access to Boeing's HR records. I don't know who's in the lineup. But I'll tell you this, if it were up to me, I'd suggest Boeing hire somebody like Tom Buffenbarger to run the 787 program. The president of Boeing's International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) has made a lot of noise about how, if Boeing would only let the union do its job, everything would go swimmingly at the 787 program.
So give someone like Buffenbarger a chance to put up or shut up. Pick a genius from the management ranks to serve as his lieutenant, identify the problems, and handle the actual work of fixing them. But give the union a figurehead to rally around and get the 787 done right.
Simply put, if Boeing wants to get the 787 program back on track, hiring Octomom shouldn't even be on the table. It's time to change the game. Is this scenario horribly unlikely? Sure, but it's time to swing for the fences.