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Boeing CFO to Retire as ‘Generational Hand-Over’ Takes Shape

Boeing Co. Chief Financial Officer James Bell, one of three top executives nearing retirement age, will step down April 1 and be replaced by the planemaker’s controller.

The shift “marks another step in the generational hand-over at Boeing,” Robert Stallard, a New York-based analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to investors.

Bell, who was hired in 1972 by a company that later became part of Boeing, will be succeeded by Corporate Controller Greg Smith, the Chicago-based planemaker said today in a statement. Smith, 45, will take over Feb. 1 and work with Bell “to ensure a smooth transition,” Boeing said.

The 63-year-old Bell has been finance chief since 2003 and was interim chief executive officer before the appointment of Jim McNerney, 62. Jim Albaugh, the head of Boeing’s commercial-jet division, is 61 and was succeeded as the company’s defense chief in 2009 by Dennis Muilenburg, 47. Boeing policy generally requires senior-level executives to retire at 65.

Heidi Wood, an analyst at Morgan Stanley in New York, said she’d long expected Bell to leave shortly after the initial deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner. That plane, Boeing’s marquee composite-plastic jet, was handed over to the first customer in September, three years behind schedule.

Bell made the announcement about a week after the planemaker beat analysts’ third-quarter estimates with profit that jumped 31 percent to $1.1 billion, or $1.46 a share. Still, his forecast for rising pension expenses prompted analysts to cut their profit estimates for next year by 5.2 percent since Oct. 25, the day before quarterly results were posted, according to Bloomberg data.

‘Year of Challenges’

“Bell’s departure continues our theme of ‘buy the dream, sell the reality,’” Wood, who has a neutral recommendation on the shares, wrote in a note to investors. “2012 will be a year of challenges as the production ramps on new and mature planes and Boeing defends its defense profitability against an increasingly harsher Pentagon backdrop.”

Boeing fell 4 percent to $63.17 at 4:15 p.m. in New York amid a decline in the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Smith’s posts during more than two decades in the aerospace industry have included heading Boeing’s financial planning and analysis and internal audit groups and leading investor relations at Raytheon Co. He will be replaced as controller by Diana Sands, 46, Boeing’s vice president of investor relations.

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