Boeing sales chief John Wojick is retiring and the company is set to name as his successor Ihssane Mounir, current head of sales to China, Japan and Korea. As the leadership changes, the Boeing sales team faces tough challenges in winning 777 and 737 MAX orders.

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Boeing on Friday named Ihssane Mounir, current head of sales to China, Japan and Korea, as the new sales chief for its Commercial Airplanes unit.

He succeeds John Wojick, who is retiring after 36 years at the company.

The leadership change comes as the Boeing sales team faces tough challenges.

Boeing needs to sell many more 777s soon to avoid serious production cuts on that widebody jet line. And it is scrambling to get back on par with Airbus in single-aisle jet sales.

Mounir, who turns 45 this month, is seen within Boeing as an unusually able and aggressive executive. In a statement, Boeing Commercial Airplanes boss Ray Conner described him as “a seasoned sales leader.”

At the age of 17, Mounir arrived alone in the U.S. from his birthplace of Morocco, fluent in Arabic, French and Spanish but unable to speak English.

After a crash course at a language school, he was accepted into Wichita State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering.

Mounir joined Boeing in 1997 as a senior aerodynamics engineer. Later he moved from the technical to the business side of the company, selling Boeing jets in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Russia.

In 2011, he was tapped to take over sales in Boeing’s most important market as senior vice president of sales for northeast Asia, including the key countries of China and Japan.

Mounir had early success in China, winning orders from three new startup carriers — Ruili Airlines, 9 Air and Donghai Airlines. Last month, Donghai ordered 25 of Boeing’s new single-aisle 737 MAX jets.

And just this week, Mounir celebrated his latest success when China Southern finalized an order worth $1.7 billion for a dozen 787-9 Dreamliners.

However, Mounir takes over at a difficult moment for Boeing sales.

Though Boeing’s 737 MAX has sold very well, Airbus’ rival A320neo jet family has sold even better and opened up a substantial order lead.

And this year, widebody jet sales slumped for both manufacturers, forcing production-rate cuts on the 777 and the 747 assembly lines.

Among Mounir’s priorities must be to sell more MAX jets, including a likely new larger variant that Boeing is expected to launch by year end.

And he’ll also need to urgently close more 777 deals if Boeing is to avoid a further rate cut on that line, which is critical to the company’s profits.

Wojick, 59, joined the company as an engineer before moving into jet sales. Appointed head of sales in August 2012, he presided over a series of hugely successful sales years and helped successfully launch the 737 MAX.

In 2014, Boeing sold a record 1,432 airplanes, including 891 MAX aircraft.

Conner praised Wojick’s “integrity, tenacity, courage and commitment.”

A person familiar with Wojick’s reasons for retiring said he’d been thinking about it for some time. He’s choosing to leave at what is probably the peak of the airplane-industry cycle.

With the order level already falling, Mounir will find it hard to match that 2014 sales tally anytime in the foreseeable future.

Wojick will remain at the company until early next year to help with the transition, Boeing said.

News of his retirement and Mounir’s appointment was first reported Thursday evening by The Seattle Times.

Oddly, Mounir is the second Moroccan-born sales chief at Boeing.

In 1998, Alan Mulally named legendary jet salesman Seddik Belyamani to that position. Belyamani sold airplanes for 28 years at Boeing until he retired in 2002.