Firm’s Highest-Ranking African American Saw Company Through Dreamliner Delivery
Boeing Co. Chief Financial Officer James Bell, who helped steer the aerospace company through several turbulent periods, plans to retire in April.
The 63-year-old Mr. Bell, the highest-ranking African-American employee in the plane-maker’s history, will be replaced by Greg Smith, 45, Boeing’s corporate controller.
Mr. Bell, who has served as CFO since 2003, is stepping down after the Chicago-based company reached several key milestones, including delivering its first 787 Dreamliner jet in September. The long-range plane, Boeing’s first all-new jetliner since 1995, was handed off more than three years behind schedule because of design and production problems.
Mr. Bell has been part of a management team that worked to repair the company’s reputation in the wake of a series of scandals. In 2005, Mr. Bell led Boeing as interim CEO for several months after the board forced the resignation of Harry Stonecipher, who had sent graphic emails to a female executive with whom he was having a consensual affair, violating Boeing’s code of conduct. Two years earlier, Mr. Bell became acting CFO after Boeing fired CFO Michael Sears for his role in the illegal recruitment of an Air Force official who was overseeing military contracts involving the company.
Boeing last week reported a 31% increase in third-quarter profit, sharply exceeding Wall Street forecasts.
“James Bell’s service to Boeing has been extraordinary in many ways over many years,” Jim McNerney, Boeing’s CEO since 2005, said in a statement Tuesday.
Mr. Smith, a two-decade industry veteran who has worked in a variety of roles, including in Boeing’s commercial-aircraft and military-jet programs, will succeed Mr. Bell effective Feb. 1. The two will work together in the coming months “to ensure a smooth transition,” Boeing said.
Diana Sands, 46, who is currently vice president of investor relations, will succeed Mr. Smith as corporate controller on Feb. 1.
Boeing declined to make executives available to comment on the management changes.
Analysts said Mr. Bell’s decision to retire isn’t surprising and that he’s leaving the company in a good financial position.
“We long expected he would leave shortly after the initial deliveries of the 787,” Heidi Wood, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, said in a research note, calling Mr. Bell “well-respected.” She said the transition period through April 1 “makes sense and ensures a smooth process.”
Mr. Bell joined Rockwell International, whose aerospace business later was acquired by Boeing, in 1972. He grew up in south-central Los Angeles and once said in a speech that, as a young African-American, “it was inconceivable to” him that he would someday be CFO of the world’s largest aerospace company.
“I have had a career beyond anything I could have imagined,” Mr. Bell said in the 2009 speech at his alma mater, California State University, Los Angeles.
Boeing said Mr. Bell, who has been an advocate of creating a more diverse work force at Boeing, plans to stay active in civic, business and philanthropic roles. He is on the boards of Dow Chemical Co. and the Chicago Urban League, among other organizations.
By David Kesmodel
November 2, 2011