Boeing CFO Guided Aircraft Maker Through 737 MAX Crisis
By Nina Trentmann and Andrew Tangel
Boeing Co.'s finance chief Greg Smith served as a steady hand
during the aircraft manufacturer's recent years of tumult from the
grounding of the 737 MAX to the coronavirus pandemic. Finding a
successor after his unexpected departure might be tough, people
close to the company and analysts said.
Chicago-based Boeing Tuesday said that Mr. Smith, a 30-year
company veteran, plans to retire July 9. The company also said it
raised the retirement age for Chief Executive David Calhoun to 70
and extended his potential tenure for up to five years. "With the
company well positioned going forward, the timing is right for me
personally to begin a new chapter outside of Boeing," Mr. Smith
said in a statement.
Mr. Smith, 54 years old, was crucial in steering Boeing through
its 737 MAX-crisis, which began in October 2018 with the first of
two fatal crashes that led to a nearly two-year long grounding that
cost the company billions. He temporarily took over as interim
chief executive following the ouster of then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg
in late 2019.
In many ways, Mr. Smith was seen by investors as effectively
running the company given his broad operational duties, and was
known an advocate with credibility on Wall Street and in
He is credited with securing billions in financing Boeing needed
to weather fallout from the MAX crisis and the plunge in demand for
new airplanes amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company last May raised $25 billion in bonds, the largest
bond deal outside of an acquisition and a record for the aviation
industry. "This was probably one of the most important capital
raises during the company's history," said Burkett Huey, an equity
analyst at Morningstar Research Services LLC, a research provider.
"Today, Boeing has the cash to survive the pandemic."
Mr. Smith was appointed chief financial officer in 2011 and over
time saw his role broadened to cover various operational roles,
including responsibilities for enterprise performance, strategy and
sustainability. He also briefly oversaw corporate communications
Before he was named CFO, Mr. Smith served as Boeing's corporate
controller and vice president of finance and held roles in supply
chain, factory operations and program management. He left Boeing in
2004 for a four-year stint at Raytheon Co., the predecessor of
today's Raytheon Technologies Corp., for a position as vice
president of global investor relations. He returned to Boeing in
J. Michael Luttig, a former Boeing former general counsel, said
Mr. Smith's contributions to the company are "inestimable and
unrivaled, and unlikely to be matched anytime soon in the future."
Mr. Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge who spent more
than a decade as general counsel before retiring about a year ago,
worked closely with Mr. Smith during the MAX crisis. The Federal
Aviation Administration cleared the plane to fly in November.
Boeing under Mr. Smith and current CEO Mr. Calhoun cut costs and
slashed thousands of jobs as the pandemic worsened. Mr. Calhoun
lauded Mr. Smith for his leadership and his efforts to strengthen
the company's finances. "His stewardship of the company's financial
position for nearly a decade, and his leadership during the severe
challenge our industry has faced as a result of the global
pandemic, have been essential to positioning Boeing for a bright
future," Mr. Calhoun said in a statement.
Mr. Smith has a good reputation among investors, said Hunter
Keay, a managing director Wolfe Research, a research provider.
"Greg had a solid connection with the investment community," he
said. "A lot of investors really believed that Greg had their
back," he said.
Mr. Smith will become eligible for early retirement at age 55 in
June, which is available to executives after 10 years of service,
according to the company's most recent proxy filing.
There could be several reasons for Mr. Smith's departure, said
Ken Herbert, a managing director at Canaccord Genuity Group Inc.,
the financial services firm. "Greg was associated with both the
positives and the negatives of the past 10 years," Mr. Herbert
said. Mr. Calhoun might want a fresh face in the finance seat now
that his own tenure has been extended, he added.
Mr. Smith will advise Mr. Calhoun and the board while they are
searching for a successor, a spokesman for Boeing said.
Boeing declined to make Mr. Smith available for an interview.
The company's share closed at $234.06, down 4.1%., according to
--Kristin Broughton and Doug Cameron contributed to this
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 20, 2021 18:50 ET (22:50 GMT)
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