Originally created 07/18/04

Boeing's boss focuses on discipline, costs



CHICAGO - Boeing Co.'s boss is pushy, aggressive and loath to compromise. That's the way Harry Stonecipher sees himself.

The plainspoken son of a Tennessee coal miner seems to be what the aerospace giant needed at a time when its defense business was drifting into trouble and uncertainty. Formerly the company's chief operating officer, Mr. Stonecipher marched out of a 1-year retirement in Florida and into the chief executive's suite last December.

He appears to have restored order. The year after Boeing was buffeted by contract scandals, it's stock price is up 30 percent, the business outlook has improved and so has morale at its commercial aircraft unit despite the aviation slowdown since 2001.

Much of that resurgence is due to brightened industry prospects, heavy U.S. military spending and the new 7E7 airplane project conceived on the watch of his predecessor, former CEO Phil Condit. But a significant amount of credit goes to the gravel-voiced Mr. Stonecipher, who appears to be reveling in a return to long workdays and in imposing his style of financial discipline.

Besides trying to restore the company's sullied reputation, Mr. Stonecipher's top priority has been to save a multibillion-dollar tanker deal with the Air Force that remains in limbo amid a series of investigations. Acknowledging that some employees did "really dumb things," he has been assuring Capitol Hill and the Pentagon that the company is not "a bunch of crooks."

He also has cut costs, reduced a top-heavy bureaucracy and pushed his troops to get going with 7E7 construction. And he's not hunkering down when it comes to Airbus, which surpassed Boeing to become the world's No. 1 airplane maker last year - Mr. Stonecipher has been on the attack against the rival for what he calls unfair European government support.