McNerney's Reputation: A Focused Leader

June 30, 2005
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 ...

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.

About the Author

John McClenahen | Former Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

 John S. McClenahen, is an occasional essayist on the Web site of IndustryWeek, the executive management publication from which he retired in 2006. He began his journalism career as a broadcast journalist at Westinghouse Broadcasting’s KYW in Cleveland, Ohio. In May 1967, he joined Penton Media Inc. in Cleveland and in September 1967 was transferred to Washington, DC, the base from which for nearly 40 years he wrote primarily about national and international economics and politics, and corporate social responsibility.
      McClenahen, a native of Ohio now residing in Maryland, is an award-winning writer and photographer. He is the author of three books of poetry, most recently An Unexpected Poet (2013), and several books of photographs, including Black, White, and Shades of Grey (2014). He also is the author of a children’s book, Henry at His Beach (2014).
      His photograph “Provincetown: Fog Rising 2004” was selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2011 juried exhibition Artists at Work and displayed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June until October 2011. Five of his photographs are in the collection of St. Lawrence University and displayed on campus in Canton, New York.
      John McClenahen’s essay “Incorporating America: Whitman in Context” was designated one of the five best works published in The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies during the twelve-year editorship of R. Barry Leavis of Rollins College. John McClenahen’s several journalism prizes include the coveted Jesse H. Neal Award. He also is the author of the commemorative poem “Upon 50 Years,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Wolfson College Cambridge, and appearing in “The Wolfson Review.”
      John McClenahen received a B.A. (English with a minor in government) from St. Lawrence University, an M.A., (English) from Western Reserve University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where he also pursued doctoral studies. At St. Lawrence University, he was elected to academic honor societies in English and government and to Omicron Delta Kappa, the University’s highest undergraduate honor. John McClenahen was a participant in the 32nd Annual Wharton Seminars for Journalists at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During the Easter Term of the 1986 academic year, John McClenahen was the first American to hold a prestigious Press Fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
      John McClenahen has served on the Editorial Board of Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and was co-founder and first editor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown. He has been a volunteer researcher on the William Steinway Diary Project at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has been an assistant professorial lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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