Outgoing Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun
Dave Calhoun addresses Boeing employees after the Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 door plug safety lapse (Courtesy of Boeing)

Avi­a­tion giant Boe­ing announced today that CEO Dave Cal­houn will depart the com­pa­ny at the end of this year, while Com­mer­cial Air­planes CEO Stan Deal will retire effec­tive imme­di­ate­ly and Board Chair Lar­ry Kell­ner won’t run for re-elec­tion at the com­pa­ny’s upcom­ing annu­al share­hold­er meeting.

The “board and man­age­ment changes”, as Boe­ing put them, fol­low a rough few weeks at the plane­mak­er. The com­pa­ny is under new­found scruti­ny after a door plug blew off dur­ing an Alas­ka Air­lines flight in ear­ly Jan­u­ary, and the evi­dence sug­gests the grave­ly con­cern­ing episode was Boe­ing’s fault. The com­pa­ny is now report­ed­ly the tar­get of a fed­er­al crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion.

Cal­houn, six­ty-six, suc­ceed­ed Den­nis Muilen­burg in 2019 after the board lost con­fi­dence in his abil­i­ty to lead the com­pa­ny. Muilen­burg had been in charge dur­ing the fatal crash­es of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopi­an Air Flight 302, both 737 MAX hull loss­es, which Boe­ing ini­tial­ly tried to dodge account­abil­i­ty for. Sub­se­quent inves­ti­ga­tions unearthed the now well-known issues with the 737 MAX’s MCAS (Maneu­ver­ing Char­ac­ter­is­tics Aug­men­ta­tion Sys­tem), lead­ing to a world­wide ground­ing of the MAX and huge trou­ble for Boeing.

The board then put Cal­houn (one of their own) in charge after dump­ing Muilen­burg. They could have gone back to basics and found an engi­neer­ing mind with roots in Seat­tle to lead the com­pa­ny. They chose not to. 

Cal­houn has been unable to pull Boe­ing out of its down­ward spi­ral, as recent events have shown. His tenure has been a one step for­ward, two steps back sto­ry of bad man­age­ment and inef­fec­tive leadership.

Last month, in our most recent statewide poll, we asked a sam­ple of 700 like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton vot­ers what should hap­pen to Cal­houn: Should he be kept on the job, or replaced with a new leader? A major­i­ty were unsure, but among those who had an opin­ion, sen­ti­ment over­whelm­ing­ly favored Cal­houn’s ouster. Just 12% thought he should be kept on, with 34% pre­fer­ring his exit.

And today, that exit was set in motion.

Here’s the exact ques­tion we asked and the answers we received:

QUESTION: Do you think Boe­ing should keep its cur­rent chief exec­u­tive offi­cer Dave Cal­houn on the job, or do you think that the com­pa­ny should replace him with a new leader?

ANSWERS:

  • Think Boe­ing should keep its cur­rent chief exec­u­tive offi­cer Dave Cal­houn on the job: 12%
  • Think that the com­pa­ny should replace him with a new leader: 34%
  • Not sure: 54%

Our sur­vey of 789 like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Tues­day, Feb­ru­ary 13th through Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 14th, 2024.

The poll uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (42%) and online answers from respon­dents recruit­ed by text (58%).

It was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling (PPP) for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.5% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

The Boe­ing board has cho­sen Steve Mol­lenkopf, Qual­com­m’s for­mer CEO and an elec­tri­cal engi­neer by train­ing, as its next inde­pen­dent board chair. 

Mol­lenkopf will be head­ing up the search for a new chief exec­u­tive offi­cer to replace Cal­houn. Stan Deal, mean­while, will be suc­ceed­ed by Stephanie Pope, the chief finan­cial offi­cer of Boe­ing Com­mer­cial Airplanes.

“I am hon­ored and hum­bled to step into this new role,” said Mol­lenkopf in a Boe­ing press release. “I am ful­ly con­fi­dent in this com­pa­ny and its lead­er­ship – and togeth­er we are com­mit­ted to tak­ing the right actions to strength­en safe­ty and qual­i­ty, and to meet the needs of our cus­tomers. I also want to thank both Lar­ry and Dave for their excep­tion­al stew­ard­ship of Boe­ing dur­ing a chal­leng­ing and con­se­quen­tial time for Boe­ing and the aero­space industry.”

Our team does not share any of those sen­ti­ments, but we hope Mol­lenkopf can find a CEO who will get Boe­ing back on the right track. 

The com­pa­ny needs to trans­form its cul­ture to put safe­ty and stew­ard­ship above prof­its and greed. It needs to do right by its cus­tomers, such as the Pacif­ic North­west­’s home­town car­ri­er, Alas­ka Air­lines. It needs to do right by its work­ers, includ­ing the Machin­ists, who are prepar­ing for con­tract nego­ti­a­tions with Boe­ing. And it should move its head­quar­ters back to the Seat­tle area so it can be close to its pri­ma­ry man­u­fac­tur­ing center. 

“I have been con­sid­er­ing for some time, in dis­cus­sion with our board of direc­tors, the right time for a CEO tran­si­tion at Boe­ing,” said Cal­houn in a let­ter to Boe­ing employ­ees. “I want to share with you that I have decid­ed this will be my last year as CEO of our great com­pa­ny, and I have noti­fied the board of that decision.”

“I orig­i­nal­ly agreed to take on the role of CEO of Boe­ing at the board’s request, step­ping down as board chair in the process, because of the unprece­dent­ed cir­cum­stances the com­pa­ny was fac­ing at that time,” Cal­houn’s let­ter went on to say. “It has been the great­est priv­i­lege of my life to serve in both roles and I will only feel the jour­ney has been prop­er­ly com­plet­ed when we fin­ish the job that we need to do. We are going to fix what isn’t work­ing, and we are going to get our com­pa­ny back on the track towards recov­ery and stability.”

It seems unlike­ly to us that Boe­ing will emerge from the clouds it’s cur­rent­ly under by the end of this year. Boe­ing is in a pret­ty deep hole, and seri­ous struc­tur­al change is need­ed get the com­pa­ny on a sound footing. 

Cal­houn speaks of fix­ing what isn’t work­ing, but he has had years to do that, and the prob­lems have just kept on com­ing. That’s why we sus­pect most Wash­ing­to­ni­ans who voiced an opin­ion about his future in our sur­vey favored his exit. 

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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