Boeing leadership frontrunners: Who will be the next Boeing CEO?

As Boeing (NYSE:BA) navigates through a challenging and transitional period marked by various headwinds that have significantly impacted the company, it is currently on the hunt for a new CEO. 

The search has intensified, and the list of potential names has dwindled, with their now being two main frontrunners, according to Jefferies analysts, who took a deeper look into the leadership race in a recent research note.

The Next Boeing CEO?

In its note, the firm highlighted that “fan-favorite” Larry Culp has maintained that GE Aero is his home. Culp is the Chair and CEO of GE Aerospace and former Chair and CEO of GE. Jefferies says he drives continuous improvement and a lean mindset throughout the operation. However, they feel Larry has likely removed himself given his “pristine reputation” and the fact he would not want to jeopardize his legacy.

Meanwhile, Jefferies said Carrier's David Gitlin has removed himself from the running. The firm believes the two frontrunners are Steve Mollenkopf and Stephanie Pope.

Head of the search Chair Steve Mollenkopf “could fit, with a successful history at QCOM defending against regulators, takeovers/activists, and customer disputes,” said Jefferies. Mollenkopf joined the Boeing board in 2020 and has been appointed independent chair to lead the CEO search. However, Jefferies feels his hat may be in the ring.

He was appointed President and COO of Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) in 2011, serving for two years before becoming CEO-elect and then CEO in 2014, serving in the role until 2021. Despite Mollenkopf’s tenure at Qualcomm, Jefferies questions whether there could he could have unfinished business.

Stephanie Pope has a three-decade BA resume. She is the only Boeing insider in contention, which Jefferies believes is a likely disadvantage given the public perception despite the internal backing. “She is now a three-decade veteran (joined in 1994), served across the 3 biz units, and is a third-gen employee at BA, who climbed to CFO of Defense, Space&Security by 2012,” explains Jefferies. “Pope was VP&CFO of Global Services (BGS) during its stand-up in 2017 under Stan Deal, then promoted to VP&CFO of BCA in Dec 2020.”

“At BGS, she expanded margins by 500 bps vs 2021 levels to mid-17%'s (vs '16-'19 avg of 15.1%) and grew sales at 8%+ annually,” notes the firm. “Pope became COO in Jan 2024 and stepped into the President&CEO role of BCA following Deal's departure.”

Jefferies notes that other candidates on the potential shortlist include Pat Shanahan, the interim President and CEO of Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE:SPR), and John Plant, who served as CEO of Arconic from February 2019 to April 2020 and as Co-CEO of Howmet from April 2020 to October 2021 before being appointed as sole CEO.

In addition, Greg Smith, who served as Boeing's CFO and EVP of Enterprise Operations, Finance, and Strategy from 2012 to 2021, Wes Bush, the former CEO of Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC), Vicente Reynal, the Chairman, the CEO and President of Ingersoll Rand (NYSE:IR), Tom Arseneault, the President and CEO of BAE Systems (LON:BAES), and Kelly Ortberg, who remains on the RTX Board, could also be on the shortlist.

Boeing Stock Forecast: How Will It Be Affected?

In its note, Jefferies maintained a Buy rating and a $270 per share price target on Boeing shares. They explained that free cash flow has been burdened by the MAX recovery and low 787 production, with an expected recovery through 2025. 

However, the focus on the services offering could accelerate growth and improved cash margins could lead to a sustainable $16 per share of free cash flow by 2026 and beyond, according to the firm.

Additional Challenges for Boeing Stock Prices

Boeing has faced several challenges in recent months with significant questions about manufacturing quality problems.

In a recent note to clients, analysts at Argus downgraded the stock to Hold, stating that while they have long viewed Boeing as a “special situation.” absent a CEO, the “turnaround opportunity is now multiple quarters in the future.”

They noted that the has experienced complications with its MAX aircraft, which have precipitated a change in the company's leadership, including the replacement of the chairman and the forthcoming early retirement of the CEO.

Argus said the stock was fairly valued at the price of around $173 per share.

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