New Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, in his first public appearance in Seattle, spoke of building ever deeper industrial connections across the globe, including in China. He also addressed the challenge of new technology players as diverse as SpaceX and Facebook.
New Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg in Seattle Tuesday offered a vision of the jet maker as a sprawling multinational enterprise that intends to build ever deeper industrial connections across the globe.
As the aerospace business booms worldwide, that strategy can actually increase employment in the U.S., he said.
“It’s more than just selling our airplanes or selling our (military) products,” said Muilenburg, making his first local public appearance as CEO. “It’s also about developing partnerships that have depth and breadth, technical content and substance.”
Muilenburg also dropped hints that Boeing will confirm a major overseas partnership when President Xi Jinping of China, accompanied by Chinese airline executives, visits the Everett jet-assembly plant Wednesday.
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Boeing is expected to announce not only new airplane orders — “Stand by,” said Muilenburg — but also a deal with the Chinese government to open a 737 jet-completion and delivery center in China.
The Seattle Times reported Sept. 11 that China is set to take over interior installation work, painting and delivery of the 737s destined for Chinese customers.
Muilenburg spoke to the SAE 2015 AeroTech Congress & Exhibition engineering conference at the convention center downtown.
He said China’s state-owned commercial-airplane enterprise, COMAC, is already “a key part of our supply chain” and that Boeing plans “additional 737-related work” in China. He did not disclose details.
Boeing’s jets are all finished and delivered in its Puget Sound area factories, the 737s in Renton.
Muilenburg told the engineering conference that sending more work to China will not mean fewer American jobs but will benefit both countries.
He said the massive 737 production-rate increases that Boeing plans — up to 52 jets per month by 2018 — are driven in large part by sales to China, and this additional work will safeguard jobs in Renton.
“The model here is global collaboration that allows us to grow jobs in the U.S. and deepen our presence in China,” Muilenburg said.
He also rattled off a list of other current overseas partnerships, including the making of airplane parts in Japan and South Korea; research and development centers in Australia, Germany and Russia; and support and training offered to Middle East airlines.
Meanwhile, he said, the Puget Sound area is a region Boeing “will continue to invest in for the long term.”
Separately Tuesday, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner sent a message to all employees offering them reassurance about the China deals expected Wednesday, without divulging details.
“We are in important discussions with Chinese partners about our strategic partnership in China and also possible sales agreements,” Conner wrote. “These discussions are at a sensitive stage, and I appreciate your support as we finalize what I hope will be a win for Boeing.”
“I want to assure you that agreements we may reach with our Chinese partners will not result in layoffs or reduce employment for the 737 program in Washington state,” Conner added.
Beyond overseas partnerships, Muilenburg also spoke about the challenge of competing with new technology players.
Facebook has talked about developing its own satellites.
Amazon is working on drones to deliver parcels.
Google is researching autonomous vehicles — self-driving cars.
SpaceX has already reduced the cost of space-rocket launches to an extent that threatens Boeing’s established government-launch business.
Muilenburg talked about collaborating with these newcomers where possible.
Boeing is already working with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which is designing a new engine that could propel the next-generation Vulcan space rocket being developed by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture.
He said further collaboration in the space business could bring together Boeing’s long-standing mission reliability with the lowered cost of the new entrants.
In an intriguing aside, when asked if Boeing has plans to make drones for Amazon, Muilenburg replied with a single word: “Maybe.”
He said autonomous vehicles in the air, in space and under the sea are “a big future area for Boeing.”
Muilenburg’s audience Tuesday was engineers from all over the country, including a strong contingent from Boeing.
They clearly savored hearing a Boeing leader who described himself as “an engineer at heart” and who introduced his speech with a Boeing video bearing the slogan “Build something better.”
In his early days at Boeing, Muilenburg worked as an engineer on both commercial and defense programs in the Puget Sound area.
Asked how Boeing could compete for talent against the likes of Amazon and Google, Muilenburg spoke with passion about the importance of what Boeing does, and not only for the economies of the world.
Citing passengers on airliners, soldiers riding in Chinook helicopters and astronauts blasting into space, he said, “Lives literally depend on what we do.”
“We work on things that really matter,” Muilenburg said. “If you want to work in engineering, and to have an impact that’s global, come work in the aerospace sector.”