Soaring out of a Job

In a book you might not be able to read for quite a while, Boeing ex-CFO Mike Sears provides his views on corporate ethics.

In one of the most profound cases of bad timing in recent memory, publisher John Wiley & Sons sent out advance review copies of Soaring Through Turbulence, Mike Sears’s new book (written with Thomas A. Schweich), days before Sears was canned as CFO of Boeing Co. The book’s publication was “delayed indefinitely” after the sacking.

Both Sears and Darleen Druyun — the former vice president and deputy general manager of missile-defense systems — were fired by Boeing for allegedly discussing a job opportunity for Druyun at Boeing while she was still overseeing Boeing contracts for the Air Force. The two then allegedly tried to cover up the misdeeds. Sears has publicly denied wrongdoing in his dealings with Druyun, and she has not commented on the allegations.

Given the circumstances of the management guide’s release to the media, some passages seem to take on unintended meanings. For example, the chapter on dealing with employees offers this: “…as a leader, your job is not only to tell people to be ethical, to take the high road, but also to tell them where the lane lines are….” Ethics requirements for “government contracts are far different than those governing traditional commercial procurements — including, for example, the rules on when you disclose your cost data, gratuities, and the rules on obtaining competitive information. Ensure that your employees understand the often counterintuitive rules that apply to them.”

Sears wrote the book, he explains in the foreward, to help him convey management wisdom accumulated over his career. He spent 28 years at McDonnell Douglas, rising from an avionics engineer to president of McDonnell’s Military Aircraft and Missile Systems division. When McDonnell and Boeing merged in 1997, he took charge of military aircraft and missile systems development and production. He was named CFO in 2000. Sears has been widely recognized for his work with the Boeing Leadership Center, an employee education program respected for its management and ethics curriculum.

Many, including JSA Research aerospace analyst Paul Nisbet, saw him as a top candidate for Boeing CEO. Of all the potential successors to Phil Condit, Nisbet says, “I thought it would be Sears. He looked to be the best prepared and had the best record” — in finance and on the operations side for both defense and commercial programs. “Everywhere he went he did well,” says Nisbet.

Soaring Through Turbulence also recommends developing “a sixth sense on the issue of disclosure. When you get a piece of information, you must assess the context in which you are operating and have the standards of disclosure versus secrecy so clear in your mind that you make an almost automatic decision as to just how far this information can and must go.”

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