Just over a year after he was fired for mishandling the 737 MAX crisis, former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has started a venture that aims to raise $200M from wealthy investors to acquire promising space, defense and advanced air vehicle startups.
Under Muilenburg, Boeing invested in a range of futuristic technologies, and even acquired some. But the aerospace giant is now burdened with heavy debt and no longer has the resources to invest in speculative side ventures.
Leveraging his knowledge of such technologies,and a stellar cast of advisors, Muilenburg will now pursue investments with other people’s money using a financing vehicle called a “blank check company” — so-called because it invites investors to put up money ahead of identifying what specific businesses will be acquired.
Such a vehicle, also known these days as a “special purpose acquisition company” or SPAC, typically goes public and then combines with a private company that’s attracted by the SPAC’s trading status and hoard of cash. The past year has seen an explosion of SPAC deals, often led by by well-known business figures.
A financial filing Monday identifies Muilenburg as chairman and CEO of New Vista Acquisition, newly incorporated in the Cayman Islands, which will seek to invest in “emerging and transformational technologies.”
New Vista’s listed address is three blocks away from Boeing’s headquarters in Chicago.
A spokesperson for Muilenburg said Tuesday he would not be available for comment as the new company is in a “quiet period” mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of its offering of shares to the public.
Others involved in the venture include Paul Eremenko, former director of engineering at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects unit and later the Chief Technology Officer at Airbus and founding CEO of Airbus’s Silicon Valley innovation center. Eremenko is currently CEO of California-based Universal Hydrogen, which is developing an all-electric plane powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
There’s also President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, and Chris Cassidy, a U.S. Navy SEAL and former NASA Chief Astronaut.
New Vista directors include former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey; the current chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Christopher Lofgren; and General Stephen Wilson, a former vice chief of staff of the Air Force,.
Muilenburg has also brought in some talent from Boeing, including the company’s former Chief Technology Officer John Tracy and Anne Toulouse, who retired last year as head of communications.
Resurrecting a career
Boeing’s board fired Muilenburg in December 2019 after he repeatedly projected that the return of the 737 MAX to service was always just a month or two away — targets that were missed with one delay after another.
Earlier that month, Muilenburg had been publicly rebuked by FAA Administrator Steve Dickson for making these schedule pronouncements, which were perceived as an attempt to put pressure on the FAA to hurry the process of recertifying the MAX.
During the MAX crisis, Muilenburg doggedly refused to accept Boeing’s responsibility for two crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.
And in tense appearances at 2019 Congressional hearings, where some legislators called for his resignation, his guarded responses to questioning and the stiffness of his personal reactions enraged the families of the victims of the crashes.
Muilenburg received no severance pay when he was ousted. But according to Boeing’s March 2020 proxy filing, he walked away after 33 years at the company with a pension worth $15 million, plus $4 million in 2019 salary and benefits, and long-term incentive stock awards valued then at about $39 million.
With that financial cushion, Muilenburg, 57, seems ready to try to shake off the intense public hostility he faced in 2019 by looking to the future.
At Boeing, before the MAX crisis, he championed bets on futuristic technologies.
In 2017, he set up Boeing HorizonX, a venture capital unit that looked for startups with “transformative aerospace technologies.” It also acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, which develops unmanned air vehicles. In 2018, Muilenburg set up Boeing NeXt, a subsidiary focused on manned and unmanned air taxis.
Floored by the twin crises of the MAX grounding and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel, Boeing is now cutting costs massively and shrinking its operations as it focuses on survival.
In September, it halted operations at Boeing NeXt, and right now doesn’t even have the money to invest in a new airplane to plug a gaping hole in its product lineup.
Yet the New Vista venture makes clear Muilenburg wants to pursue such opportunities himself.
In December, he invested in and joined the leadership team of Monarch Tractor, which is developing “the world’s first fully electric, driver optional, smart tractor” for farmers. Muilenburg grew up on an Iowa farm and Monarch’s announcement touted him as bringing “both aerospace experience and a farming background.”