x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Boeing's man in the Middle East

As the regional president of the aircraft maker, Paul Kinscherff's challenges include identifying the best opportunities in the region and making a case for them with the company's chiefs in the US.

Illustration by Chris Burke for The National
Illustration by Chris Burke for The National

Being recognised by a top official from Mubadala Development, an investment arm of the Abu Dhabi Government, is a dream for most businessmen. Being plucked out of a crowd is another matter entirely.

Paul Kinscherff of Boeing was sitting among hundreds of other delegates at a recent aerospace conference in Dubai when the speaker, responding to a question about the US aircraft maker, called out, "Where is my friend Paul?" This might be a cause of surprise or even embarrassment for an audience member, but in this case it was a mark of prestige, as the man at the lectern was one of the most influential aerospace executives in the UAE: Homaid al Shemmari, an executive director at Mubadala. In return, Mr Kinscherff smiled and raised his hand to say hello.

Mr Kinscherff, 51, became president of Boeing Middle East in March 2008, but already the ties that he is helping to forge here are helping to position Boeing as a major partner in Abu Dhabi's plans to develop a home-grown aerospace industry. His company is on the cusp of a deal to hire Mubadala to produce precision aircraft parts in Al Ain for the US aircraft maker. Boeing and Mubadala also aim to be partners in a host of other activities including aircraft maintenance, research and development and training.

The breadth and pace of the agreements have been a far cry from 2007, when the French aircraft maker Airbus was negotiating to subcontract Mubadala for composite aerostructure parts while Boeing seemed content to stay on the sidelines. Mr Kinscherff declines to take the credit. "I like to say correlation is not causation," he jokes, adding that Boeing has become more proactive in adapting to changes in the business environment in the Middle East. But he acknowledges that one of his priorities has been to educate his corporation about opportunities here.

"I spend quite a bit of time communicating back into North America the importance of this region and the importance of the UAE," he says. "In the Middle East, the pace of change is very, very fast, and it is accelerating." Building relationships is something Mr Kinscherff has been doing through much of this 21-year career in aerospace. In various stints as Boeing's head of investor relations as well as running its finance and treasury, he managed relationships with banks, insurers, investors and Wall Street. The skills honed in those roles are serving him well here.

"One of my goals is to build understandings and relationships locally," Mr Kinscherff says. "Obviously, our partners in the UAE must absolutely trust us, and we must absolutely know them and trust them as well. These are long-term partnerships in aerospace - they are generational." Traditionally, Boeing would have hired a former diplomat for the role of regional head because of the person's ready access to country leaders.

Mr Kinscherff was one of the first to break the mould when he was appointed two years ago. He was selected, he says, because of his international experience and his intimate knowledge of Boeing, built up and refined during his years as its head of investor relations, when he explained the company's performance to investors during some of its most tumultuous periods, including after the attacks on the US in September 11, 2001.

"The stock price plummeted and nobody knew exactly what was going to come next," Mr Kinscherff recalls. "We had to announce layoffs of tens of thousands of people in the company because the company was managing its production rate down as quickly as it could, and in a smart way." It was one of the most challenging periods in his career. As a result, and because of his time as treasurer after that, Mr Kinscherff found himself well positioned to be appointed to the Middle East role.

"They wanted somebody who could bring Boeing to the Middle East, if you will. So that was very important. And I knew Boeing very, very well." Mr Kinscherff began his career in the oil business, working in finance for Atlantic Richfield. International work figured prominently in the job, such as when a 45-day assignment in Indonesia stretched to 18 months. In 1989, as he was adjusting to life back in the US after that assignment, he received a call from Lockheed asking whether he would be interested in joining a team that helped Lockheed customers finance military and commercial aircraft such as the L-1011 TriStar, a three-engine, wide-body jet.

"I said to Lockheed 'I'm in the oil business; what do I know about financing jet aircraft or C-130s or anything else for that matter?' And they said 'we just want somebody with experience overseas. We will teach you the spread sheets and the deal'." Mr Kinscherff joined the aerospace industry at a moment of historic consolidation; a time that put his financial skills to the test with mergers, acquisitions and restructurings.

In the span of three years in the 1990s, Lockheed bought the F-16 fighter jet division of General Dynamics, merged with Martin Marietta to become Lockheed Martin, and completed a US$9.1 billion (Dh33.42bn) purchase of a unit of the defence contractor Loral. In the case of the F-16 deal, Mr Kinscherff helped execute the purchase. "Whenever you go through something as substantive as that it's both life-changing and career-changing," he says. "It's a privilege to go through that, even when it is hard. We had a fantastic experience."

Mr Kinscherff left Lockheed Martin in 1999 to join Boeing at a time when it was reshaping its finance department. His current role in the Middle East sees him back on the international stage. The decision to move to the UAE was made, to some degree, to give his family the same opportunities and experiences he had when he was starting his career. He lives with his family in Dubai. Watching his children's athletic events often means travelling to places such as Cairo for one of his sons to compete in athletics or to Kuwait for his daughter to play volleyball as they take part in regional competitions.

"Given I was working consistently with international partners in my other roles, I had developed a sense that the world was changing," he says. "And I knew it would be invaluable for my kids to get this experience." @Email:igale@thenational.ae