Boeing-CEO: Stephanie Pope – Forbes

A little-known financial expert who most recently handled three of Boeing's smallest parts and services divisions, the surprise promotion was seen as a chance for Pope to gain the operational experience to replace CEO David Calhoun in a few years.

But Boeing was plunged into another crisis in January after a crew explosion aboard an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX, again calling into question the safety of its planes, hastened change at the top.

Under pressure from federal investigations and airlines angry about delays in delivering their planes, Boeing's board announced last week that it would search for a new CEO to replace Calhoun, who said he would leave by the end of the year. Pope, 51, was suddenly appointed head of the commercial airline business, taking over from Stan Deal.

Now the chances of Pope taking over as CEO seem slim. Amid criticism that Boeing has lost its engineering expertise over the past 20 years under CEOs with financial backgrounds, such as GE alumni Calhoun and Jim McNerney, Wall Street and airlines are clamoring for someone with a manufacturing flair to fix the company's manufacturing woes. A post-Alaska incident review by the Federal Aviation Administration of the 737 MAX factory in Renton, Washington, found defects in 33 of 89 parts of the manufacturing process examined, according to a presentation made available to The New York Times. Production of Boeing's best-selling plane, the MAX, has slowed dramatically as the company works to improve processes.

For the same reasons, three industry watchers are skeptical that Pope is anything more than an interim solution at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

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“Microsoft Excel proficiency isn't what's missing here,” Richard Aboulafia, managing director of Aerodynamic Advisory, told Forbes. “Interim leader, of course. Someone who saves a unit in deep trouble? No way.”

A Boeing spokeswoman told Forbes that Pope was not available for an interview.

But Calhoun and the team seem confident in Pope's abilities. Three former Boeing employees who worked with the Pope over the past three decades offered some explanations. They told Forbes that he is a formidable executive capable of being effective as CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

They described her as a hard worker, a good listener, good at probing employees for information and ideas, and good at building consensus.

He may not be an engineer, but given the complex manufacturing process for an airplane with hundreds of thousands of parts, “there's never going to be one person who solves all the problems,” a former executive told Forbes on condition of anonymity. Speak freely. “It takes a team, and I think Stephanie's leadership style is perfect for bringing the team together and focusing on this issue.”

Pope grew up in the St. Louis area and studied accounting at Southwest Missouri State University. He started in 1994 as a financial analyst at the Army Aviation Division of McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, where his father also worked. McDonnell Douglas was acquired by Boeing in 1997.

Bill Krall, a retired financial executive, recalled being impressed by Pope's performance at a quarterly performance review of defense plans after the merger, where he was the youngest participant in a room full of senior executives. “She asked a lot of smart questions and seemed like she knew a lot more than all the other guys,” Krall said. “I started telling everybody, this girl is going to go far.”

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Robert Samuelson Jr., who was Pope's boss at Boeing, worked for him in the late 2000s as he rose to senior finance positions in the defense industry — and he said he was glad those roles were reversed. “He's a great supervisor.”

Krall and Samuelson described her as confident, sociable and balanced. “A very positive person,” Samuelson said. “People wanted to work for them.”

Former CFO Greg Smith and ex-Boeing executive Stan Diehl have backed him, another former employee told Forbes.

Smith brought Pope to the corporate headquarters in Chicago in 2012-2013 as director of investor relations. He “took a big risk on me,” Pope told Plano Profile magazine in 2017. He then became vice president of financial planning and analysis until 2016, which put him in the back-and-forth between headquarters and business units. When he drew up the five-year plans.

Both jobs required her to learn quickly and delve deeply into the details of how the company was run, the former Boeing executive said. And both involved important matters for executives, making them “politically difficult” tasks, which he handled “without skipping a beat.” At the financial planning level, where set goals affect executive compensation, “He did a good job of managing the process, which can be a little fraught,” he said.

In April 2022, Pope was promoted to president of Boeing Global Services, its parts and services division. Last year was a rare refuge of profit for Boeing, while its defense and commercial aircraft divisions posted losses. I don't know how much of this is due to the Pope. Sales of spare parts have the thickest margins in aviation, and it's a boom for parts suppliers to offset Boeing and Airbus' difficulties in supplying new planes as airlines fly longer to meet demand for returning older planes. Maintenance.

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This is Pope's second stint at Boeing Commercial Airplanes — he was the division's chief executive under contract from 2020 to 2022. But what's missing from his resume: experience managing an airline program and dealing with aircraft buyers, according to Abulafia. (He had conversations with airlines about maintenance and training as president of Boeing Global Services, spokesman Ted Land said.)

That raises questions about not only whether she can “fix a broken manufacturing system,” but whether she can do the other things needed to get the sector back on track, Aboulafia said. “You have to go out and reassure customers. You have to restore morale to their deeply disaffected workers. And you have to have a vision for the future of the company.

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