Will Boeing's CEO Repay America by Hiring in China?

Things have been getting better for Boeing (BA) in recent weeks, and that's casting a pleasant light on its CEO, Jim McNerney, the subject of my 2009 book, You Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. The latest good news is that President Barack Obama chose McNerney to lead the President's Export Council, an advisory committee on international trade, The New York Times reported Thursday. And just this week, after years of drama, Boeing competitor Airbus dropped out of a competition for a $35 billion Pentagon contract, to build airborne refueling tankers for the Air Force.

Late in 2009, after years of delay, the 787 Dreamliner, which now has 865 orders and is poised to generate nearly $151 billion in revenues for Boeing, was able to get through initial flight testing. McNerney has a lot to smile about.

The Times reports that the President's Export Council has three aims: to ease export financing, to make sure existing trade agreements are enforced and to "help create jobs while making American goods more competitive abroad." In short, the PEC is intended to boost Obama by showing America that he's encouraging American companies to hire American workers.

Outsourcing on His Mind?

But McNerney's involvement may throw little wrench into the works for President Obama. If there's any truth to the report I received last summer from an engineering union official who spent 20 years at Boeing, McNerney does not feel any strong obligation to return the favor to the president. According to this source, McNerney would love to move more of Boeing's manufacturing and design to China.

While it's not at all clear whether that will actually happen, or whether adding plants in China would mean closing down Boeing factories in the U.S., it's hard to see such a move as helping to create American jobs. True, it might make Boeing more competitive by allowing it to take advantage of China's lower labor costs. And it would give the company greater access to China's growing airline market. But the only American beneficiaries of such a move would be Boeing shareholders.

Let's hope McNerney considers how much of Boeing's recent good fortune can be traced back to the American taxpayers, and hires more American workers, rather than Chinese ones.
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