By Aaron Gregg / The Washington Post
Boeing announced Tuesday that it has nominated former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley to its board of directors, where she is expected to help guide the company in a global aerospace market where it competes fiercely with its European rival, Airbus.
Her appointment is subject to approval at the Chicago-based jet manufacturer’s next annual shareholder meeting on April 29.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to contribute to Boeing’s continued success as a cutting edge industry leader and a great American company,” Haley said in a news release. “Not only is Boeing the largest aerospace company in the world and America’s biggest exporter, it also understands the importance of teamwork and building community through its network of suppliers in all 50 states and around the world.”
Haley, 47, was the first female governor of South Carolina, serving three terms as governor from 2011 to 2017. Boeing’s only commercial airplane assembly line outside Washington state is in North Charleston, South Carolina, where it builds the 787 model.
She was appointed U.N. ambassador by president Trump in January 2017 and served until December, 2018, when she abruptly resigned. Haley is one of the few Trump appointees to leave government with her reputation largely unscathed, and she tamped down speculation that she would run for president in 2020 or 2024. She wrote in her resignation letter that she wanted to “take a step up” to the private sector after fourteen years in public office.
For Boeing, a government contractor that benefits from billions of dollars every year in U.S. military supply contracts, Haley’s board appointment is the latest example of the company’s close ties to government. Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan is a former senior vice president in Boeing’s commercial division. And the company has long been a favored landing place for outgoing government officials; the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight reported late last year that Boeing had hired 19 former high-level military officials.
“Boeing will benefit greatly from [Haley’s] broad perspectives and combined diplomatic, government and business experience to help achieve our aspiration to be the best in aerospace and a global industrial champion,” chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said in a release.
She joins Boeing at a time when it is trying to scale up its U.S. military business and also must navigate an increasingly complex global trade environment.
Boeing led the stock market’s rally throughout 2017. It soared past the $100 billion annual revenue mark for the first time last year amid strong demand for commercial jetliners like the 737 MAX and the 787 Dreamliner. And its Arlington-based defense business was recently awarded a series of high-profile military aircraft contracts that should pad its coffers for decades to come.
The company faces stiff competition in the international jetliner market, however. It lost a campaign to impose tariffs on Bombardier, a Canadian jet manufacturer that has made inroads in the U.S. market. Bombardier later engineered a merger with Airbus.
Boeing revealed in December 2017 that it would pursue a complex combination with Brazil’s Embraer, a close competitor with Bombardier in the market for smaller commercial jet. On Tuesday morning Boeing announced that it had attained the approval of shareholders in Brazil needed to move forward with the merger. The company expects to complete it by the end of 2019, pending certain regulatory approvals.