Scott Carson's departure as the head of Boeing's commercial unit represents the end of a critical chapter in the company's history that will inform and guide his successor as the challenges of Boeing's flagship 787 loom large over the enterprise.

Sixty-three-year-old Carson, who is a 38-year veteran of Boeing, is to retire at the end of 2009, and from 1 September the reins of Boeing Commercial Airplanes were transferred to Jim Albaugh. Albaugh had been responsible for the company's Integrated Defense Systems unit.

Carson's tenure, which began in 2006, saw massive growth in Boeing's commercial backlog, with record-breaking sales in 2007 that netted orders for 1,413 airliners, but also saw labour strife, crippling strikes and major delays on the 747-8 and 787 programmes.

Scott Carson

The issue that most defined Carson's tenure was his stewardship of BCA during significant crises that saw more than two years of delays accumulate on the 787 programme.

In an internal email to BCA employees, Carson cited the 787 as the prime driver for his retirement.

"My decision [to retire] is tied to many factors, but perhaps the most important reason for me was resetting the schedule on the 787," Carson says. "With this baseline in place the new leader will have a clear path forward."

Boeing announced on 27 August that the 787 programme clock would again be started after multiple attempts to put the programme on track, this time with the first flight targeted for the close of the year and first delivery by the end of 2010.

While chief executive Jim McNerney emphasises that Carson's decision to retire was his and his alone, he has quickly moved on to highlight the skill set that Albaugh brings to BCA as a professional engineer, a contrast to Carson, who has a business background.

"We are an engineering company," said McNerney at the Morgan Stanley Global Industrials Unplugged Conference in New York. "It's not that we got away from engineering. I think it's the disciplines around programme management, which at its heart, has engineering."

He added: "Jim Albaugh can go very deep technically, but he has been managing hundreds of highly technical programmes for the last eight years at IDS. And that's exactly what BCA needs. We've got 60,000 very talented engineers. The issue is bringing them together in a disciplined management process. That's where we'd lost the handle a little bit, and so we need to regain that."

Boeing employees interviewed concurred with McNerney's sentiment. "BCA has historically resisted any influence outside Puget Sound," says one. Another added that despite any institutional uneasiness against a chief with a non-BCA background, the reintroduction of an engineer at the top leadership spot at BCA was "refreshing".

Yet the appointment of Albaugh to head BCA represents a continued trend of moving IDS employees into senior BCA positions.

Vice-president of airplane programmes Pat Shanahan and vice-president and general manager of the 787 programme, Scott Fancher, both previously held positions in IDS before being brought over to assist on the 787.

By naming Albaugh as Carson's replacement, Boeing shifts an executive whose career has been spent dominating the defence and space units that were acquired from Rockwell in 1996 and McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Albaugh will be succeeded at IDS by Dennis Muilenburg, who leads Boeing's Global Services and Support division.

In his own letter to employees, Albaugh outlined three "imperatives" for BCA: flawless execution, profitable growth and improved efficiency.

Of those three, flawless execution has eluded Boeing on the 787 and 747-8. However, as the Albaugh era begins at BCA, getting the 787 and 747-8 certificated and into steady production will be his highest priority and greatest challenge.

Source: Flight International