* Ray Conner runs commercial aircraft business
* Mechanic by training who got into sales
* So low-profile, governor misspelled his name
By Ben Berkowitz and Tim Hepher
Jan 11 An airplane mechanic by training with an
aversion to anything even resembling the spotlight, Boeing's
Ray Conner now finds himself front and center of a
growing crisis over the safety of the company's flagship 787
Conner was a last-minute addition to a U.S. Department of
Transportation press conference on Friday announcing a
comprehensive review of the 787 after a series of incidents
called its reliability into question.
"We welcome any opportunity to further assure people outside
of the industry about the integrity of the airplane and the
process of bringing it to life," Conner said, speaking to more
than 100 reporters along-side Federal Aviation Administration
head Michael Huerta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
It was the first serious test in this role for the Boeing
lifer, who became chief executive of the commercial planes unit
last June after a 35-year career with the company, much of it
ultimately spent in sales.
In an industry full of brash back-slappers with outsized
personalities, Conner stands out by not standing out. When he
assumed his new role, the governor of Washington even spelled
his name wrong in a press release.
"He's approachable, but was thrust into the leadership
position in a sudden fashion that would make anybody slow to
open up and be on the stage. That doesn't mean he can't. He was
a salesman," said Barclays analyst Carter Copeland, who met
Conner several times before he took his current job.
Conner's low-key but determined style matches that of his
counterpart at Airbus, Fabrice Bregier. The two men were
appointed within weeks of each other but will be under pressure
to protect margins by executing complex projects in addition to
fighting for markets.
Quiet or not, Conner remains a dogged pitchman for his
company's planes. Some in the aviation press have said Conner is
much more like Airbus's top salesman John Leahy than Conner's
predecessor Jim Albaugh ever was -- the kind of
hail-fellow-well-met that people like to talk to when they can.
Whereas Albaugh, a top defense executive, had been credited
with bringing discipline to production after delays, Conner's
arrival re-energized Boeing's sales team as the word went out to
go after every order in a brutal competition with Airbus.
Under Conner, Boeing seems determined to defend an average
50-50 split of the narrowbody market that pits the A320 against
Weeks after Conner's promotion to CEO, Boeing shocked its
rival by grabbing a $5 billion order from Singapore's Silkair
, which had previously bought European.
In December, Airbus retaliated by persuading Turkey's
Pegasus Airlines to defect to its planes, but this was not
enough to prevent Boeing winning the 2012 order race.
A graduate of two colleges in Washington state, Conner also
serves as Boeing's top executive in the Pacific Northwest
region, and his ascendancy was taken as a good sign by locals
who rely on Boeing.
The mayor of the Washington city of Renton even sent a
letter to the editor of a local website congratulating him.
"He played a key role in the decision to build the 737 MAX
in Renton and in keeping thousands of aerospace workers employed
in Renton and throughout the region for many years to come,"
Mayor Denis Law wrote.