Investor confidence in Boeing has taken a knock with the surprise departure of chief financial officer (CFO) Debby Hopkins, after just 15 months in the job.

Hopkins is to become CFO at Lucent Technologies, the world's largest telecommunications equipment maker. Boeing has appointed treasurer Walt Skowronski, recruited by Hopkins, as acting CFO while the company looks for a replacement.

Wall Street credits Hopkins with driving Boeing's financial turnaround, and restoring investor confidence. Boeing says it is "disappointed" by Hopkins' decision. Hopkins, who joined Boeing as its most senior-ever female executive in December 1998, from General Motors Europe, says she was attracted to Lucent, once part of AT&T, because of its strength in telecoms. Though she has a track-record in high technology after 13 years at Unisys, Hopkins' move will do nothing to combat perceptions of aerospace as an "old" industry. Boeing is, ironically, now fighting hard to establish a core communications capability.

Hopkins, thought to be Boeing's highest-paid employee, had been tipped to succeed president Harry Stonecipher, who retires next year. Commercial Airplanes chief Alan Mulally now appears favourite for that job, with military aircraft and missiles head Mike Sears also in the running.

Source: Flight International