Boeing's Can Do Co PilotDori Jones Yang
If Boeing Co. is one of the nation's most admired companies, why does it seem so dull? One factor may be its quiet, somewhat bland Chief Executive, Frank A. Shrontz. But with his choice of heir apparent, Shrontz, 60, injects dynamism into the executive suite. On Aug. 31, Philip M. Condit, known companywide as vibrant and outgoing, was named president. The 51-year-old executive is clearly in training to succeed Shrontz, who will retire by 1997.
Condit won tremendous loyalty at Boeing's commercial-airplane division by challenging the status quo. For the past three years, as head of the group designing Boeing's next widebody, the 777, he spearheaded three major initiatives: Condit persuaded Boeing engineers to give up their cherished drafting tables in favor of computers, forced engineers and manufacturing people to work together through the life of a development project, and began including its airline customers in design. Employees, customers, and analysts seem universally impressed. "He has a certain can-do attitude," says Howard A. Rubel, who watches Boeing for C.J. Lawrence Inc.
Raised in Berkeley, Calif., Condit studied mechanical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and earned his masters degree in engineering from Princeton University. He joined Boeing in 1965 as an aerodynamics engineer, then rose through the sales, marketing, engineering, and production ranks and headed the award-winning engineering team that designed the 757.A skier, Condit also is heavily involved in charitable and cultural activities in Seattle.
SCAR TISSUE. Condit says his top priority as president will be to buck up Boeing's customer relations. Says Condit: "You have to literally try to walk in your customer's shoes." Boeing learned that the hard way: In 1989, it angered buyers by failing to deliver its new 747-400 jumbo jets on time. "There were a lot of scars," says Gordon A. McKinzie, United Airlines Inc.'s 777 program manager.
So, in October, 1990, when United placed a huge $22 billion order that allowed Boeing to launch the 777, United Executive Vice-President James M. Guyette presented Condit with a one-page handwritten memo, asking Boeing to listen to its views on building the new plane. Condit not only signed the memo, but went Guyette one better: He allowed United and other airline representatives to sit in on the teams designing the 777. Since then, the Guyette-Condit memo has become an operational model at Boeing.
Although Condit has long been the ob- vious candidate for the president's slot, the timing of the announcement surprised some. Many expected Shrontz to wait until the 777 program was closer to completion before removing him from the project. Now, just 60% of the 777 design is finished, and production has barely begun--the first model is scheduled to roll off the assembly line in 1994. But the program is going smoothly, and the new head of the 777 group, Alan R. Mulally, 47, is a high-energy engineer in the Condit mold. Besides, Condit will need time to learn the military end of Boeing's business. "The world has changed. We need to adapt," explains Shrontz. He needs Condit now, he says, to help in strategic thinking.
No kidding. Boeing may not see a surge in orders for years. That, plus a shrinking defense business and a more competitive global marketplace, will make for turbulent times in the Boeing cockpit. But with Condit there, at least, the tough times are likely to be lively.