Boeing’s Albaugh says underpromise, overdeliver


Jim Albaugh, the head of Boeing Co’s commercial airplanes unit, makes good on his promises – even those that may be slightly embarrassing.

Back in March, when the aerospace community was buzzing with speculation over the future of Boeing’s best-selling 737, the courtly, 61-year-old wine lover bet a bottle of fine wine that the planemaker would completely redesign the narrowbody rather than simply putting a new engine in the existing design.
“It’s kind of funny because the bet was about what he will do. And he’s betting against me,” said Adam Pilarski, the winner of the bet. Pilarski is senior vice president at AVITAS, an airline consulting company, Reuters reports.

Four months later, Boeing Commercial Airplanes stunned the aviation world by announcing plans for the 737 MAX, a re-engined version of its 737. The world’s second-largest planemaker had set aside plans for the redesign, which would have taken longer to bring to market but would have offered greater fuel savings.
“Turns out I was right,” Pilarski said. Albaugh soon settled up with a pricey bottle of Italian wine.

Pilarski said the tale speaks to the character of Albaugh, a business leader and an engineer tasked with restoring the Boeing’s reputation for meeting commitments to customers.

That reputation was bruised in the last decade when the company’s historic 787 Dreamliner program suffered delay after delay, compromising airline fleet plans, and causing experts to wonder if Boeing had bitten off more than it could chew.

Speaking Tuesday by phone at the Reuters Global Manufacturing and Transportation Summit Albaugh repeated that the 737 MAX will be ready for service in 2017 or sooner and that the 787 program is on track to meet its production goals.

The 787 is about three years behind schedule because of snags in the extensive global supply chain. Under Albaugh’s watch, it finally entered service this year, and Boeing aims to ramp up production to 10 787s per month from the current pace of 2.5 per month.
“What I want to do this time around is underpromise and overdeliver,” Albaugh said.
“I never again want to be talking to a customer about how I’ve impacted their business plan because I’m late and because the airplane doesn’t give the performance that they wanted,” he said.

Albaugh, a Washington native, took the reins at Boeing Commercial Airplanes a little over two years ago after serving as head of Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems (IDS).

At IDS, he oversaw some of Boeing’s largest systems integration contracts, including the $160 billion Future Combat Systems modernization program and the multibillion-dollar ground-based segment of missile defense.

He joined Boeing as a project engineer in 1975. His appointment to BCA in 2009 was greeted warmly by those who felt the company had strayed from its engineering roots following its 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas.

Some critics said Boeing had lost sight of the bigger picture.
“There was a real feeling that the engineering side of Boeing had been badly neglected,” said Teal Group aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia. “His appointment promised to bring back more of an engineering culture, and he seems to have done just that.”
“A lot of it is psychological, just having an engineer at the helm who talks engineering,” Aboulafia said.