I asked the question right after the Oct. 10 telephone press conference: Would there be any management changes resulting from the new six-month delay in deliveries of the Boeing 787. That announcement by Boeing was made Wednesday, Oct. 10.
Boeing spokeswoman Jennifer Cram, who I have been dealing with just about every week for the past five months on DN’s extensive 787 coverage, said: "There are no management changes with this announcement."
It’s seven days later and yesterday (Oct. 16), Boeing announced 787 VP and GM Mike Bair was being transferred to a marketing job. Not making commitments in Boeing CEO’s James McNerney’s eyes clearly is unacceptable and it looks like the price Bair is paying is the hottest job inside a very hot company. My sources tell me Bair failed to wrap the 787’s problems up on a big delay and unrealistically tried to make deadlines that simply could not be met.
Cram in a phone message today said she gave me "the best information we (or she) had at the time" and that when I asked Oct. 10, "no management changes had been announced," indicating that even if she knew, she could not tell me about them. If the latter was the case, a "I can’t comment" would have been the most honest response in my opinion. Of course, that equates to I’m not telling you which raises more suspicions. But it’s logical that her response to me on Oct. 10 more than suggested that the end of Mike Bair’s four-and-a-half year and largely successful reign over the 787 project was not imminent.
Do I feel mislead? Yes. Am I mad? Not really.
I specifically asked her about 787 GM and VP Mike Bair, who oddly was not on the Oct. 10 call to explain the delay. He had lead the two previous 787 progress reports I had participated in. Instead it was three of his bosses: CEO James McNerney; EVP Commercial Airplanes Scott Carson and CFO James Bell. All expressed deep displeasure with the latest delay and made it sound like they were surprised by it. Heads had to roll. Think about it: how would you like if your company’s CEO, CFO and EVP were telling the media and Wall Street that they were “disappointed” in the job you were doing? That’s got to be hard.
The operator never got to me in the Oct. 10 telephone conference so I could pose my question about management changes to the Boeing’s powerful troika. And the reporters and analysts the operator did recognize AMAZINGLY never asked such an obvious question. I was frustrated that many repeated questions already asked. If this is the best the aerospace media can do…well, never mind. Proof that it was on my mind a week before Bair’s transfer in my “conspiracies I” blog post of Oct. 11, five days prior to the Bair transfer announcement. Here’s what I wrote:
"I’m told yesterday’s news will not trigger any management or engineering executive changes. In the politburo-watch department , the absence of 787 VP and GM Mike Bair from yesterday’s call was painfully obvious although he was mentioned once. As 787 development chief, he has led the discussion on the two previous 787 update calls that I have participated in. A spokeswoman told me that he was simultaneously relaying the delay news to the 787 team and answering questions.”
For its part, Boeing officially is attributing Bair’s transfer to a marketing job to "executive retirements and movement within Boeing…." If you accept that at face value, I have a bridge to sell to you.
As for Cram, she has been delightful to work with and responsive to a fault. In my 30-year career, I have never seen flowers to a PR person. I sent some to Cram 10 days ago because she had done so well by Design News. She provided us terrific access to Boeing engineers and our coverage won a 2007 Eddie Award.
And Mike Bair? What of him? He’s sidelined for now but to his credit, 710 orders for this fabulous airplane (it has not flown yet, but on paper, it is fabulous) accumulated under his watch. Today’s Seattle Times wrote a decent story on all the players including Bair’s successor, Pat Shanahan, who now is squarely on McNerney’s hotseat. And some in the know believe we have not seen the last of 787 delays.