Ray Conner

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on Friday, January 24, 2014 at 4:03 PM PST

On January 16th, Ray Conner, President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) and Vice Chairman of the Boeing Company visited Albers for the Albers Executive Speaker Series. He is the fourth BCA CEO to speak in the series, following Alan Mulally, Frank Shrontz, Scott Carson, and Jim Albaugh. More than 400 were in attendance.

Conner started the presentation reflecting on the six decade relationship between Boeing and SU. Much of BCA's current leadership team graduated from the Albers School and Conner noted they are very capable leaders who embody the values of Boeing. This speaks to the quality of their SU education and the quality of SU faculty, he noted.

Conner took the occasion to look back at the year 2013. it was a challenging year but an important one in terms of testing the organization. Conner noted the year included the 787 grounding, the SPEAA and IAM contracts, and the roll out of two new planes (787-10 and 777-x).

Conner was very proud of how BCA responded to the 787 grounding. They did three years of work in three months to find a solution, he noted. Only Boeing could do that, he said. They did not lose a customer in that period and continued to sell 787's. Despite the crisis, BCA sold a record 1355 airplanes.

Regarding the recent renegotiation of the IAM contract, he said they wanted to be able to build the 777x here while maintaining the best pay in the industry. Conner said they accomplished both those goals with this contract.

Conner believes Airbus has become a formidable competitor and their product line has improved. They are also very aggressive on pricing. Airbus wants to obtain 60% market share and Conner said that would be very dangerous for Boeing. He recalled what happened with McDonnell Douglas, which saw its market share fall to 40% and could not compete as a result.

In the Q&A, he said that outsourcing to emerging nation customers was here to stay. These governments want to generate jobs and who can blame them. Conner said they would do this step by step, making sure the customer earned their stripes as a supplier. This is not a give away program, he argued.

Conner shared that his start at Boeing was due to a bad fishing season in Alaska. He worked as the engineer on a salmon fishing boat and the summer season was so bad, he needed to find a job afterwards. In applying for a job, he had the option of a desk job or a machinist (thanks to working as the engineer on the boat), and went with the machinist position since he figured with overtime he could earn more. What he thought would be a short term stay at Boeing turned into a 37 year and counting career at Boeing!

Conner said he subsequently had opportunities in supplier management and sales, and that combined with his experience in manufacturing, has been invaluable to him as a Boeing leader.

Conner noted that once you are in the airplane business, it is hard to leave. As a result, you develop long standing relationships and friendships. This is not just within Boeing, but also includes suppliers and customers. People remember you for your honesty and integrity (or not) and so your reputation in the business is very important. No doubt that is part of the explanation for why Conner has been such a successful leader at Boeing!

Conner's visit was an excellent opportunity for our students and alumni to hear from one of the region's top business leaders. He is coming off a challenging year, but one that he and BCA have been able to navigate successfully. It was also clear to the audience that he is an authentic and principled leader.