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Boeing Frontiers
March 2004
Volume 02, Issue 10
Boeing Frontiers
Focus on Finance

Building on his record

James Bell, a 31-year veteran of Boeing, is now CFO


Building on his record The Jan. 6 appointment of James Bell as chief financial officer of Boeing was well-received by many of Boeing's biggest stakeholders in the financial community. "He is someone who has proven himself over the years in finance," Chris Mecray, a senior aerospace analyst with Deutsche Bank, told the newsletter Aerospace Daily. "He is a known quantity, has excelled in the organization, is viewed as highly competent and is easy to interact with."

Before this appointment, Bell had served as the acting CFO since November 2003 and as the corporate controller since October 2000.

In an interview with Boeing Frontiers, Bell spelled out his priorities and gave some insight into his management style. Here's an edited transcript.

Q: What are your objectives in this position?

A: I want to make sure we're doing everything that we should to optimize the financial performance of Boeing. That begins with us getting good business that has embedded in it the opportunity to provide the kind of earnings we're looking for, which is double-digit earnings. We should also make sure we're only making the investment necessary in assets and resources needed to generate those revenue dollars and that we're focused from a profit standpoint on becoming world-class and making sure our people have the necessary tools and skills to support this objective.

Q: What do you bring to this role?

A: I have extensive background in a number of financial disciplines. That provides credibility both at the corporate level and the operational business unit level. Also, I've had a number of leadership roles where I've demonstrated that leadership can make a difference. You have to hire the best people for a job, set clear expectations of what the desired result is, and allow them to do the job. And don't micromanage them: The people who do the work know best about what needs to be done and how to improve it.

Q: What challenges do you foresee in this role?

A: We [in Finance] need to better integrate communication across the enterprise-wide Finance Organization and make sure essential information is shared and understood in a timely manner. Last year there were a couple of cases when our Board and our leadership felt surprised by the financial impact of issues experienced in the businesses. I want to emphasize that I don't believe that the surprise was intentional; I think it really had to do with the clarity of communication. A lot of the elements of what was going on had been shared, but it hadn't been put together to the point where the people who needed to understand it really saw the implications.

Q: What else do you consider high-priority issues for the next year or so?

A: Ensuring that our Finance personnel understand and are knowledgeable of our key Finance processes and are actively engaged in the continuous improvement effort. In addition, we need to benchmark against others and make sure we're doing everything necessary to improve our processes. We should also focus on people development and on having an integrated process for developing financial professionals across the enterprise. We have good development processes in Commercial Airplanes and Integrated Defense Systems, but I'm really interested in integrating these to ensure that we have well-developed professionals who can take on future leadership roles.

Q: What are some of the important lessons you picked up from people you consider your mentors?

A: Aside from hiring the brightest, most capable people and allowing them to be themselves, the other key lesson is to stay focused on the job at hand. Often, people say they're looking for their next opportunity, but they're overlooking the opportunity in front of them. I think that if you stay focused on the assignment you have today and do it well, opportunity will find you. That approach has worked for me, and it's one I'm reinforcing with my team.

Q: You've been with the company for more than 30 years after joining Rockwell, a precursor company of today's Boeing, in 1972. Did you ever imagine, especially early in your career, that you'd be the CFO of a company that's a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Index?

A: I remember thinking I'd graduate from college with an accounting degree so I'd have a skill set I could apply in a real job. But I would never have thought I'd be the CFO of a great company like Boeing. Once I started understanding the company and its values, and saw the opportunities, I stayed.

There are not a lot of African-American CFOs. Clearly, I'm here because Boeing is focused on diversity and getting the right person for the job, based on that person's ability to meet the requirements of the position, regardless of racial or ethnic background or gender. Over my career, I have been provided numerous development opportunities and given assignments of increasing responsibilities that, in aggregate, prepared me for my current position. That's been integral in my decision to stay with the company for all these years.

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