CEO departure kicks Boeing comms unit into high gear

CHICAGO: Boeing's PR department sprang into action last week in the wake of CEO Phil Condit's sudden resignation December 1 and the subsequent naming of board member and former McDonnell Douglas CEO Harry Stonecipher to succeed him. Stonecipher will not take the title of chairman; that went to former Hewlett-Packard CEO Lewis Platt.

CHICAGO: Boeing's PR department sprang into action last week in the wake of CEO Phil Condit's sudden resignation December 1 and the subsequent naming of board member and former McDonnell Douglas CEO Harry Stonecipher to succeed him. Stonecipher will not take the title of chairman; that went to former Hewlett-Packard CEO Lewis Platt.

Along with the company's corporate communications unit, advanced planning for a Wednesday-morning audio news conference involved the company's chief counsel and the IR department. After it was given a heads-up about Condit's decision the previous week, the PR team used the weekend to set up the audio news conference for the media and industry analysts.

"We were engaged in crafting both a strategy for the announcement and the actual materials themselves," said Boeing's PR VP John Dern. "The objective was an integrated plan that took into account all our stakeholders, including employees, the investment community, our customers and, of course, the news media."

The first part of the plan implemented Monday morning was a video made especially for Boeing employees the day before, and shown as soon as Condit's announcement broke.

"We wanted to communicate that this was an orderly transition, that the board's decision [to accept Condit's resignation] was made after extensive deliberations," Dern said. "We also realized that it was important to communicate that what our outgoing CEO had done for the company was significant and would endure."

Other key messages the board wanted to deliver were the reasons for Condit's departure, that the board felt a change was necessary, and that the new structure at the top would split the office of the CEO from that of the chairman.

A special group within the PR department - "three or four of us working full-time," said Dern - has since been busy responding to reactions, including negative comments reported by some employees and the media. Seattle Times business columnist Stephen Dunphy, for one, noted that "the former president of McDonnell Douglas...is one of the 11 men and women who have been asleep at the switch instead of doing their jobs."

On the whole, despite lingering doubts, the dramatic developments reportedly drew praise from investors, government officials, and military analysts, who said Boeing needed to reassure its largest customer, the US government, that it will fly right from now on.

Condit resigned after former CFO Mike Sears violated company policy in the hiring of a former Air Force official.

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