Chief Executive Names Boeing’s McNerney ‘2015 CEO of the Year’

As complex organizations go, there are few companies with as many moving parts as Boeing, which Jim McNerney has transformed since he became CEO in July 2005.

Jim-McNerney-3When you become bureaucratic, people move along for reasons other than their performance. The discussions between a manager and the employee are not as candid as they should be, because everybody’s feeling trapped in the middle of something.

This can be difficult with tens of thousands of people, but a little easier here because of the fundamental excitement and passion that we have for what we do. Managing that part of our culture is very hard. It comes down to making people feel special about the special stuff we do, without embedding in them a feeling of arrogance that can morph into an attitude.

Q: Comparing your Boeing experience with 3M and GE, how have you changed as a leader?

JM: I’m a more mature leader than I was when I left GE 15 years ago. I recognize the role of culture and the motivations of people and their alignment to a greater degree than I did when I was younger. At GE, I was a typical young manager who felt that I could think my way through anything. And because the answer was obvious, everybody would follow.

As I went from GE to 3M to Boeing, I consciously adopted a different style. I’ve always been a pretty interpersonal person. I tend to be one who tries hard for alignment. I just have a broader set of tools now to get that alignment.

Q: What would you describe as your most difficult challenge over the last 10 years?

JM: It was defining a culture that we all wanted to grow toward, and in so doing, getting people out of the old legacy cultures that they were in. Recall that Boeing when I got here was a relatively unintegrated set of four companies. It was Boeing, Rockwell, Hughes and McDonnell Douglas, each of which had its own sites, its own language, its own culture. Some of the turbulence I inherited had to do with lack of alignment—people didn’t understand each other.

Functions weren’t stitched together to protect the company. Career pathing did not have the same language, the same set of development around it. In such circumstances you can [try to] have one of the four cultures win in that process, or you could define a fifth. That was the hard part, defining a fifth; creating all the hooks and handles that link career development, mission statements and business objectives while maintaining growth and productivity improvement. So there’s no loser among the cultures; rather, there’s a fifth, better one that we’re going to for. This was hard work during the first year and a half.

Q: Have you got that fifth culture nailed in?

JM: You never want to declare victory on something like this. There are still parts in the middle of our company where it hasn’t totally taken hold. But I would say we’re 70 percent of the way there. It takes a decade or more to really get that done.


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