McNerney's Reputation: A Focused Leader

On July 1, 3M Chairman and CEO W. James McNerney Jr. becomes chairman, president and CEO of Boeing Co. In his move from St. Paul to Chicago, McNerney will take with him a reputation for being a focused leader, a person who asks tough questions, demands operational excellence, encourages innovation and develops talent.

When McNerney joined 3M on Jan. 1, 2001, he had to contend with economic recession in the U.S. and what he termed a "new world" in which global overcapacity existed in a number of industries, manufacturers lacked pricing power and the economic forecast for much of the globe was for slower growth. At Boeing, where he has been a director for more than three years, McNerney will take over a company that's engaged in a fierce commercial-aviation battle with rival Airbus SAS, working to restore its reputation after some serious ethical lapses and competing in a world where the rising price of energy could slow rates of economic growth.

Significantly, McNerney is no stranger to aviation and airplane leasing and financial services. At General Electric Co., where he spent 18 years and was in the running to succeed John F. "Jack" Welch Jr. as chairman and CEO, McNerney served as, among other positions, president and CEO of GE Aircraft Engines and executive vice president of GE Capital. Said Boeing Chairman Lewis E. Platt when McNerney's selection was announced June 30, "As a past business partner and as a Boeing director, Jim has a deep knowledge of the aerospace industry and of Boeing. He has a proven track record as a leader of complex global businesses, has gained significant experience working with a wide range of our government and commercial customers, and throughout his career has demonstrated an ability to deliver results even in the most challenging business environment."

It remains to be seen to what extent McNerney will seek to have Boeing adopt a single approach to process and quality improvement. He led 3M's move from what he dubbed "a menu approach" that included Six Sigma to Six Sigma exclusively. "I just felt very strongly that the entire company [needed to] adopt one [methodology], "so that we could develop a common language [and] so that we could leverage our size," he told IW readers in the January 2004 cover story "New World Leader."

Also unknown at this point is to what extent McNerney will stress developing leaders at Boeing, something that has been a high priority for him at 3M. "Leadership development is about helping people grow, and if I can get people as individuals growing, then I've got a company that grows," he told IW readers.

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