After two deadly plane crashes in the past five months involving Boeing 737 Max jets, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has joined dozens of countries around the world in grounding the 737 Max planes while the accidents are investigated. Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, who has led the company since 2015, said the company supports the decision “out of an abundance of caution.”
Muilenburg and Boeing are facing scrutiny after an Ethiopian Air plane crashed on March 10, killing all 157 people on board. The crash came five months after a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed into the Java Sea, killing 189 people. Both planes were new Boeing 737 Max aircraft that had been delivered just months before they crashed. According to CNBC, new evidence showed that the plane’s movement was similar in both crashes.
“It became clear the track was very close and behaved similarly to the Lion Air flight. My hope is the FAA, the carriers, the manufacturers and all parties will work very hard to make this grounding as short as possible so that these airplanes can get back up in the sky,” FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell told reporters after the FAA made its announcement.
“On behalf of the entire Boeing team, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives in these two tragic accidents,” Muilenburg said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”
Here’s what you need to know about Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg:
1. Muilenburg Called President Trump & Made the Case for Not Grounding the 737 Max Planes in the United States, the New York Times Reported
Prior to the FAA’s decision to ground Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 planes, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg called President Donald Trump and made the case that the 737 Max planes should not be grounded in the United States, two sources told The New York Times. A spokesperson for Boeing confirmed the call and said Muilenburg, “made clear to the president that the Max aircraft is safe,” Politico reported.
Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he also spoke to the FAA’s Daniel Elwell and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao before making the decision to ground the planes.
“They are all in agreement with the action. Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and thereafter be grounded until further notice,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Trump told reporters, “the safety of the American people, and all people, is our paramount concern. Our hearts go out to all of those who lost loved ones, to their friends, to their families [in both crashes] … it’s a terrible, terrible thing.”
Trump added, “hopefully they will very quickly come up with an answer, but until they do the planes are grounded.”
Muilenburg and Trump have a history that goes back to the months after Trump was elected president. Boeing donated $1 million to his inauguration. And after Trump complained about the price of the new Air Force One, Muilenburg met with the then-president-elect in Trump Tower and personally negotiated the cost, according to Vox. In a recent interview, Muilenburg said about Trump, “He cares about business and he creates open communication lines, and we will have differences from time to time, we may not agree on every topic.”
Trump’s acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, is a former Boeing employee and Trump’s former UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, is soon to join the Boeing board. Trump has held events at Boeing facilities in St. Louis and Charleston.
2. He Began Working at Boeing in 1985, Starting in Engineering & Program Management Before Rising Through the Ranks to COO & Eventually CEO
Muilenburg, 55, has worked at Boeing since 1985, according to his biography on the company’s website. Muilenburg is the chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of The Boeing Company. He became chairman of the board in 2016, CEO in July 2015 and president in December 2013. Muilenburg succeeded James McNerney after McNerney retired.
“Until July 2015, Muilenburg served as vice chairman, president and chief operating officer of Boeing, where he supported the company’s aerospace business operations and focused on specific growth enablers, including important global relationships, leadership initiatives and development program performance,” the Boeing website said. “Before that, Muilenburg served as president and chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS).”
Muilenburg began his career at Boeing in 1985 in the Puget Sound region of Washington, working in “program management and engineering positions” in the company’s commercial and defense businesses. Muilenburg then rose through the ranks on his way to the CEO position.
“Earlier, Muilenburg was president of BDS’s Global Services & Support business, vice president and general manager of the Boeing Combat Systems division, and program manager for Future Combat Systems,” his bio on the Boeing website states. “Prior to that, he served as vice president of Programs & Engineering for Boeing Air Traffic Management and director of Weapon Systems for the proposed Boeing Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. He also held program management and engineering positions on F-22, Airborne Laser, High Speed Civil Transport and the Condor reconnaissance aircraft, among others.”
3. Muilenburg Was Born in Iowa & Studied at Iowa State University & the University of Washington
Dennis Muilenburg grew up in Sioux Center, Iowa, and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in aerospace engineering. He later completed his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Washington. Muilenburg was also awarded an honorary doctor of science degree by Iowa State.
Muilenburg graduated from Sioux Center High School in 1982, according to the Sioux Center News. He then went to Iowa State and began working at Boeing right out of college.
“My roots are in being an Iowan,” he told the Sioux Center News in November 2018. “When I was junior at Iowa State, I got a call from Boeing to do a summer internship in Seattle. I loaded up my 1982 Monte Carlo and drove out there. It was the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains and the first time I saw the ocean when I got to Seattle.”
Muilenburg told the newspaper the values he learned from his father and family in Iowa help him as a CEO today. His mother, Aldya Muilenburg, sister Janna Nomansen and brother, Harlan Muilenburg, still live in Iowa along with much of his family.
“I still remember my dad, who is no longer with us, encouraging us kids to follow our dreams. I can still remember when I started working for Boeing as an engineering intern, dad would ask what I was doing. When I’d say engineering, designing and testing airplanes, that was different from farm work, but he seemed to understand,” he told the Sioux Center News. “As I got to more management and executive positions, the nature of my job changed. Dad would still ask questions, but I can remember his saying, ‘So what do you actually do?’ He always reminded me to stay grounded and connected to the values we have. That’s really what it’s about. I grew up learning the value of integrity, hard work, community, partnership. No matter where you are in the world, those values can apply.”
4. He Was Paid $18.5 Million in 2017, Up From $15 Million in 2016
Muilenburg received a multi-million-dollar raise in 2017, according to the Seattle Times. His compensation went up to $18.5 million from $15 million in 2016.
Along with Muilenburg’s salary, stock options took the total amount he received in 2017 up to $23.7 million when stocks soared, the newspaper reports. Muilenburg’s total net worth is not known.
Muilenburg earns 166 times what a typical Boeing worker earns, according to data released by the SEC. A rule mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act requires companies to report their CEO’s earnings in comparison to the median worker. The median salary at Boeing is $111,200. According to the Seattle Times, the ratio is actually lower than most comparable companies. Lockheed Martin paid its CEO 186 times the average salary. United Airlines paid its CEO 235 times the median.
“Muilenburg’s compensation included a $1.7 million salary, nearly $6 million in stock awards, and more than $8 million in a non-equity incentive plan,” Market Watch reports.
5. Muilenburg Lives in Illinois With His Wife, Son & Daughter
Dennis Muilenburg is married to Rebecca Kickert Muilenburg, who is a veterinarian. Like her husband, she is an Iowa State graduate. His wife, who goes by Becky Muilenburg, maintains a low profile. Her social media pages show she is a big Chicago Cubs fan. She went to Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, Illinois, before attending Iowa State, where she studied animal science/pre-veterinary medicine. She then studied veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is not known how long she and her husband have been married.
Muilenburg and his wife have two children, a son and a daughter. Muilenburg has kept his family life mostly private, but has talked about his young kids on occassion. He mentioned them during a trip to a NASA facility where Boeing products are used and their excitement about seeing and testing the equipment. He has also talked about encouraging his daughter to pursue a career in science and how that has influenced his views on helping women advance in STEM education and jobs.
Muilenburg and his wife own a $2.66 million luxury condo in a 62-story tower in the New East Side of Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. The purchased the condo in 2015.
He and his wife also own a home in Collinsville, Illinois.