New Boeing defense CEO focuses on basics, growth areas

FARNBOROUGH, England (Reuters) - Boeing Co’s defense chief, Leanne Caret, said the No. 2 U.S. arms maker must focus on improving program performance and listening better to customers after setbacks on the $49 billion KC-46A tanker and its loss of a big U.S. bomber deal.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

A 28-year veteran of Boeing and second-generation Boeing employee, Caret shocked many when she mapped out six key priorities for the $30 billion weapons and space company that span the breadth of the company’s portfolio but do not include production of new fighter jets.

Caret, who took over as head of Boeing Defense Space & Security four months ago, said it was important to be realistic and focus on the company’s strengths and possible growth areas as its F-15 and F/A-18E/F fighter jet programs wind down.

“I did it deliberately because the story about Boeing Defense is not just about fighters,” she told Reuters in an interview at the Farnborough Airshow.

Caret, whose parents met at a Boeing plant and worked there throughout her childhood, has worked in Boeing’s rotorcraft, services and commercial derivatives business, and also served as chief financial officer for the entire defense division.

“When you look across the span of what we do, it’s amazing. This company is a world leader across the spectrum. It is more than any one single win or loss,” Caret said.

Two of Caret’s priority areas - commercial derivatives and rotorcraft - reeled in UK deals worth over $7 billion on Monday, the first day of the show.

Caret said Boeing holds the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in three other areas - services, human space exploration and satellites, and sees great potential in the fourth - autonomous vehicles ranging from undersea to space.

Caret said identifying the six priorities had helped provide refreshing and needed direction for employees.

“It’s making certain that we just hit the basics - having those great relationships with the customer, keeping a strong focus on execution, and that strong operational depth,” she said. “By doing that you can take on new and bigger and better things.”

Caret said she spends time daily to get the KC-46A tanker program back on track after costly delays and technical issues that have forced Boeing to take over $1.5 billion in charges over the past year.

“We need to understand where our issues and challenges are, and confront them head on,” she said. “Because you can fix anything if you know there’s a problem.”

She said Boeing would continue to invest to extend its fighter production lines to carry out service life extensions and upgrade older aircraft, much as it did with the CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

Ed Dolanski, who heads the Boeing defense services sector, told reporters the company was looking at how it could help the U.S. Navy expand the capabilities of its F/A-18E/F Super Hornets while extending the life of the jets from 6,000 to 10,000 hours.

“You’ve seen how we’ve continued to evolve ourselves and evolve our product lines to address tomorrow’s challenges,” Caret said. “That model applies to the Chinooks and the Apaches, and it applies to our fighter business. It then sets you up for whatever that new thing is that’s coming in the future.”

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Mark Potter and David Gregorio