Newly named Boeing Chairman and CEO James McNerney spoke to Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates about the future of the company.

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Newly named Boeing Chairman and CEO James McNerney spoke with reporters and industry analysts in a conference call this morning, and was interviewed by Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates later in the day. The following are some of his comments from those sessions.

On why he initially turned down the Boeing job: “I felt tremendous allegiance to 3M. I loved that company and I loved the people there. A sense of loyalty there made it very difficult.”

On subsequently accepting the offer: “A late change of heart. But I couldn’t be happier … I certainly view this as my last job.”

On the after-effects of the big Boeing mergers in the 1990s, especially the 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas: “I see some of the issues this company faced over the last few years in part resulting from banging together a lot of acquisitions, all of which were strategically sound and all of which are paying off for us now. To be honest, we’re still in a post-digestion era.”

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On living up to the hype and expectations surrounding his selection: “We all stay pretty grounded around here. This is a mid-Western company now. I’m a mid-Western guy. The excitement comes from the business … not necessarily because some hotshot showed up here.”

On Boeing’s recent scandals, and business and personal ethics: “We still have a bit of a hole to climb out of. … I believe that there is zero difference between business ethics, personal ethics and ethics that you carry in your community … Holding yourself to a high standard is part of any job.”

On overcoming those scandals: “You have to live your reputation every day. You can’t look back. I’m feeling very good about the progress we’ve made.”

On Boeing’s rivalry with Airbus: “Rarely has the strategy of the two companies been more differentiated than they are today. We’ll get a look over the next few years as to which strategy is the right one. I personally think the Boeing strategy is the right one and that could result in an increasing number of orders. I think we are going to sell a lot more airplanes than we have over the last couple of years.”

Will Boeing beat Airbus on orders this year? “We have people on our organization who tell me that’s going to happen. I don’t focus too much on it. That’ll get done at the end of the year and obviously I’ll feel good about it if we’re on top.”

On Boeing’s strategic shift toward spreading work around the globe, while focusing the company only on engineering design, marketing and final assembly: “The strategy has the impact of shifting one kind of work to another kind of work. … Growth will off-set any diminution in terms of the impact of that shift.”

On the shift away from parts fabrication and the decision to sell the commercial plant in Wichita: “I think the Wichita situation is clearly a case of trying to figure out a way to make that organization as globally competitive as they can be. The new entity will have the opportunity to access a much broader market than they were as a captive Boeing manufacturer. At the same time, we will benefit from some of the productivity (increases). … I think it’ll be a win longer-term for the people there and a win longer-term for Boeing.”

On trade issues with China, specifically the impact of any U.S. move to block a Chinese oil company’s bid to acquire Unocal: “This company supports free trade. We want our technology to be free to satisfy customers anywhere in the world. We want to see and support the kind of open and free commercial arrangements we’ve had with China over the years.”

On the positions of Alan Mulally and Jim Albaugh, the heads of Boeing’s commercial and defense units, now that McNerney has taken the top spot: “I was very pleased as I chatted with them over the last couple of days. Their enthusiastic support of my appointment was terrific. It made me feel great. Obviously there must have been a note of disappointment for them. … We’re going to work together well and productively. … I am enthused about them staying on and I’m delighted to report that they are enthused about working with me.”

His leadership style: “I try to strike the balance between asking people, including myself, to do more and investing in the tools—whether management tools or process development tools—to enable them to reach higher goals. … I’ve been privileged to lead and grow large, technically-driven global enterprises by focusing on customers, product and market innovation, and strong financial management. And most important, ethical and compliant business behavior.”

His immediate priorities: “Execution, focus, excited employees. … My focus will be on the fundamentals: customers, deepening my knowledge of the operations, learning the specifics of what’s going on. I also want to take some deep dives into the technology; the technology we have is awesome.”

On upcoming labor talks at Boeing’s Puget Sound plants this year: “We need to have a balanced discussion and an outcome that’s right for our customers and our industry.”

What are the chances of resurrecting a 767 tanker deal for the Air Force? “If the best product at the best price plays a role, the chances are good. … We’ve got a fair amount of technology and engineering already into (the tanker project), which should give us a leg up.”

On the next version of the 747, the 747 Advanced: “This is a plane that, if we have the customer acceptance we anticipate, that we’ll go with. It’s a pretty extraordinary plane. Alan and his team are ready to go.”