Boeing names Conner commercial plane head

Tue Jun 26, 2012 7:02pm EDT
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By Bill Rigby

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) appointed a new head of its commercial plane unit on Tuesday, turning to a veteran engineer-turned-salesman to give it the upper hand in its battle with Airbus for the $100 billion-a-year aircraft market.

The move, just weeks before the Farnborough Airshow, comes as Boeing attempts to ramp up production of its civil aircraft, including the troubled 787, and regain its leading position in the key single-aisle market, where it allowed Airbus to march into its core territory and take a large order from staunch Boeing customer American Airlines last year. AAMRQ.PK

In a surprise move, Boeing said Raymond Conner would be the new head of its commercial plane-making unit with immediate effect, replacing another longtime Boeing executive, Jim Albaugh.

Conner, 57, joined Boeing in 1977 as a mechanic and worked his way up the company's engineering, supply chain and marketing groups to become head of sales. Albaugh, 62, who came to prominence at Boeing's defense operations, is to retire on October 1 after 37 years with the company. Boeing's standard retirement age is 65.

The move, while unexpected, was greeted positively by industry-watchers.

"Commercial aircraft sales is a very customer-centric job," said Carter Leake, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets. "Conner is more from true-blue aircraft sales than Albaugh. Arguably Conner has touched more Boeing customers than any person in the entire company."

Albaugh took over the commercial plane unit in September 2009 after running Boeing's defense unit, as the company looked for a steady hand to guide the early production of the troubled 787 Dreamliner program after several years of delays.

Industry-watchers agree that Albaugh achieved that, while he also brought the new 747-8 jumbo to market and presided over an unprecedented labor agreement at Boeing's volatile Seattle-area plants.   Continued...

James F. Albaugh, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, talks to workers during a ceremony for the first 787 Dreamliner passenger jet to be assembled at Boeing's South Carolina facility in North Charleston, April 27, 2012. REUTERS/Mary Ann Chastain