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Boeing Turns to Ex-Mechanic for Sales Fix

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EVERETT, Wash. — As Boeing Co. tries to rev up airliner sales and restore customers' confidence in its ability to deliver new jets on schedule, the aerospace giant is counting on an unassuming executive who began his career as a plane mechanic. Boeing's Ray Conner dots the eye of a ceremonial lion at an April event to mark the completion of a joint-venture factory in Tianjin, China. Ray Conner is a three-decade company veteran who most recently managed its supply chain. He took on the… (online.wsj.com) Daha Fazlası...

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malinoff112
Donny Malinoff 0
EVERETT, Wash.—As Boeing Co. tries to rev up airliner sales and restore customers' confidence in its ability to deliver new jets on schedule, the aerospace giant is counting on an unassuming executive who began his career as a plane mechanic.

Boeing's Ray Conner dots the eye of a ceremonial lion at an April event to mark the completion of a joint-venture factory in Tianjin, China.

Ray Conner is a three-decade company veteran who most recently managed its supply chain. He took on the new role of senior vice president of sales and customer support for Boeing Commercial Airplanes earlier this month, in a management shake-up. The move came just weeks after archrival Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, won part of a record aircraft order from AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, a longtime Boeing customer that hadn't purchased Airbus planes since the late 1980s.

Mr. Conner, 56 years old, succeeded Marlin Dailey, who became president of Boeing operations in northern Europe and Africa. Mr. Conner, who briefly was vice president of sales prior to Mr. Dailey, this time will also run Boeing's large and growing aviation-services business, which helps carriers manage their fleets.
Dreamliner Deferred

Boeing's long-awaited 787 Dreamliner was dogged and delayed by problems. See stock price, key events and, in red, production delays.

Mr. Conner's promotion shows how seriously Boeing viewed the decision by American and other players to place big orders for revamped Airbus A320s, which compete with Boeing's workhorse 737s, say analysts and people close to Boeing.

The appointment also signals that Chicago-based Boeing sees Mr. Conner as a potential head of its commercial-airplanes unit, these people say. Jim Albaugh, the 61-year-old who runs the $32 billion division, holds Mr. Conner in high regard, company officials say.

Aviation executives say Mr. Conner's low-key, forthright demeanor has made him popular with airline customers. "He does what he says he is going to do, which is kind of novel," said Gordon Bethune, a former Boeing executive who later ran Continental Airlines Inc.

Mr. Conner has overseen major jetliner programs including the 747 jumbo jet and 777 widebody, managed development efforts and led sales teams around the world.

Boeing declined to make Mr. Conner and other executives available for interviews. A spokesman declined to comment on succession plans. Another potential candidate is Pat Shanahan, the vice president who oversees Boeing's aircraft programs and is known for his technical skills and problem-solving abilities, according to people close to Boeing.

Mr. Conner quickly encountered a test in his new role. On Sept. 16, longtime Boeing customer Cargolux Airlines International SA of Luxembourg refused to take delivery of the first new 747-8 freighter plane just three days before a hand-off ceremony. Both sides cited unresolved contractual issues. The matter remains unresolved despite continued negotiations.

Boeing on Sunday completed contractual delivery of the first 787 Dreamliner—more than three years late—to launch customer All Nippon Airways Co., transferring the jet's title to the Japanese airline. Mr. Conner must now ensure ANA and other customers are satisfied with the highly efficient new jet as Boeing tries to fulfill a big order backlog. He also eventually needs to win new orders for the 787, sales of which have slowed after huge early demand.

Mr. Conner also faces pressure to win orders for Boeing's 737 MAX, a planned update of the venerable single-aisle jet that will feature new engines. The plane, which Boeing plans to deliver in 2017, is a response to the Airbus A320 "new engine option," or neo, a redesigned version of the Airbus best-seller. The new A320 garnered 1,066 of the 1,156 new orders Airbus won this year through August. In the same period, Boeing won only 472 orders, so Mr. Conner has a big gap to close with the new 737.

"It will really be his job to make sure customers have confidence the 737 MAX will be delivered as promised, on time," said John Plueger, president of plane-lessor Air Lease Corp.

Mr. Conner is the latest in a revolving door of executives to compete against Airbus's sales chief, John Leahy. Since Mr. Leahy, an American, started running Airbus sales in 1994, Boeing has changed sales directors eight times. In nine of those 17 years, Mr. Leahy—Airbus's chief operating officer for customers—netted more orders than his Boeing counterpart. Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., also has delivered more planes than Boeing in every year since 2003.

Mr. Conner grew up in the Seattle area, and worked on a commercial fishing boat before landing a job at Boeing in 1977 as a mechanic on its 727 narrow-body jets. His father and brother also both worked as mechanics at the plane maker before rising into managerial positions in operations. "You can't get any more Boeing than Ray," said a former senior Boeing executive.

In the 1990s, Mr. Conner showed a knack for selling airplanes while posted in Asia, securing big orders from carriers including Thai Airways. Though he doesn't speak any Asian languages, he spent hours honing relationships with key airline executives. Now his office is adorned with photos and other mementos from major sales campaigns in Asia and other regions.

As a vice president for airplane sales in the Americas between 2003 and 2007, Mr. Conner won major orders during a difficult stretch for the airline industry. In 2005, for example, Northwest Airlines, a big Airbus customer, ordered 18 of the 787 Dreamliners, marking the carrier's first order for large Boeing planes since the mid-1980s.

More recently, Mr. Conner was part of a group of Boeing executives, engineers and other employees who tackled many of the problems in the supply chain for the delayed Dreamliner. He also helped get up and running Boeing's new Dreamliner final-assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C. Boeing still faces huge challenges with the plane, including whether it can quickly boost production of the jet and make the 787 program profitable. Mr. Conner must now restore customers' faith in Boeing's ability to deliver the jets, say industry officials.

"He's a very good listener, and that's important," said Jeff Turner, chief executive of Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc., a supplier for the 787 who has worked closely with Mr. Conner. "Ray is just really good at seeing different sides of the problem and being open to solutions that work for all the parties."

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