Former Boeing CEO makes comeback at self-driving tractor venture

Dennis Muilenburg, who was then Boeing’s CEO, speaks at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. After his ouster from Boeing in 2019, Muilenburg has resurfaced as an adviser to Monarch Tractor. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

It’s been almost a year since Boeing fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg over his handling of the 737 MAX crisis, but now he’s found a new role in the manufacturing industry — as an investor and adviser at a company building self-driving electric tractors.

California-based Monarch Tractor says Muilenburg, who grew up on a farm in Iowa and served as a Boeing engineer and executive for more than 30 years, will bring his experience in the aerospace world to agricultural technology.

“Monarch is at the perfect intersection of my experience paths,” Muilenburg said in a news release.

The company unveiled its “driver optional” tractor just last week. The electric vehicle is designed to perform pre-programmed tasks in farm fields, but also will be capable of being driven either remotely or in the cab. The first tractors are due to be shipped in the fall of 2021, at a starting price of $50,000.

Praveen Penmetsa, Monarch’s co-founder and CEO, said Muilenburg’s “supply chain operational acumen and broad business experience at a global scale is a unique and perfect fit for Monarch Tractor as we embark on our ambitious journey.”

Before serving as Boeing’s CEO, president and board chairman, Muilenburg held a variety of management roles in programs ranging from commercial airplanes to military airplanes and weapons systems. But he struggled to deal with the fallout from two fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and early 2019.

Boeing’s board ousted Muilenburg last December, saying that “a change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward.” His replacement, David Calhoun, presided over the latter stages of the process that led to last month’s go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration for the 737 MAX’s return to service.

Muilenburg has kept a relatively low profile over the past year, and Monarch Tractor didn’t disclose the amount of his investment in the venture. But he could have a significant amount to invest, thanks to his long tenure at Boeing. Financial statements report that he received about $62 million in pension benefits and stock.

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