Asked to explain what qualities he would like to see in the next chief executive of Boeing, outgoing CEO Dave Calhoun hints at personally favouring an internal candidate to guide the company into its next era. 

During the company’s 24 April quarterly earnings call, Calhoun said the company’s board of directors will “look at the market every way they can” but does not expect a decision “within the next month or two”.

“They know I have an internal candidate that I think the world of,” he says. “They will balance their perspective and get to the right conclusion with my full support.”

Calhoun – who took over in 2020, amid Boeing’s first 737 Max crisis – will leave the company at the end of the year. Former Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Stan Deal has already retired, with former chief operating officer Stephanie Pope stepping into that role. 

Boeing's North Charleston 787 assembly facility

Source: Laura Bilson/The Post and Courier

Boeing’s next leader will be tasked with addressing the comapny’s manufacturing issues and navigating development of the airframer’s next aircraft programme 

Pope has been identified by some analysts as a likely candidate to become Boeing’s next CEO, should the board choose the internal route. Another potential successor is Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive and current CEO of 737 fuselage maker Spirit AeroSystems. Boeing is currently negotiating the potential acquisition of Spirit. 

Not all analysts are convinced that a C-suite overhaul will cure Boeing’s ailing production lines, including its production-capped 737 Max programme, as the issues are on its factory floors. Others say a leadership change is necessary to chart a new path forward. 

Calhoun says his successor’s main challenge will be nailing Boeing’s next aircraft development programme – a task he has been loath to take on personally. Calhoun has long maintained that the airframer should focus on righting its production problems before launching another clean-sheet aircraft design. 

“Mistakes that matter are usually in the development of another airplane, not so much in the production issues that we face today, or the supply-chain issues that were created from Covid,” Calhoun says. ”These are, in the context of aviation, short-term issues that have to get wrestled through slowly, in a disciplined way.”

“On the other hand, when you get big development programmes wrong, you pay a price and you pay it for a long time,” he continues. “My view is that next leader has to make smart long-term decisions and get the development programmes right.” 

Calhoun has offered that opinion to Boeing’s board, which is now led by new chair Steve Mollenkopf, the former CEO of Qualcomm and an engineer by trade. His own replacement remains to be identified. “Again, I have an internal succession plan that I like,” says Calhoun.