Just Plane Law

Autumn 2019
man sitting in chair with plane statue
Photo by Oliver Regueiro

Brett Gerry ’93 got the call to join The Boeing Company’s legal team at the right time. It was 2008, and he was finishing his government career with the Bush administration, serving in national security law positions at the Justice Department and the White House. This new job would be working in a division of Boeing’s defense business, helping oversee legal issues arising in the company’s satellite, missile defense, and other national security programs. 

“Continuing to work in national security felt like an extension of my time in public service,” Gerry says. 

It was with a bit of a shock that merely six months later he was invited to move from the D.C. division to Seattle, to serve as general counsel of Boeing’s commercial airplane business, which builds airplanes for airlines around the world. “But it was an exciting opportunity, and my wife and I were up for an adventure,” he says. 

Since then, that adventure has taken him to Japan and then to Chicago (Boeing’s corporate headquarters), where he recently became Boeing’s general counsel, the top lawyer in the company. 

Gerry grew up outside of Philadelphia and went to Colgate to study economics and political science. He was particularly influenced by courses with professors Barry Shain and Robert Kraynak: “They developed my ability to engage with new ideas and people with different points of view.” Those skills came in handy as he pursued a joint political science and law degree at Yale and served as a senior staffer on a bipartisan commission looking at the Iraq weapons of mass destruction intelligence failures. Later, he helped stand up a division in the justice department to help develop new policy positions on terrorism and national security law in the wake of 9/11.

As a lawyer for Boeing’s commercial division for seven years, Gerry worked on an array of issues, including labor law, contract disputes, and compliance with government regulations. He is proudest, however, of his support to the company’s development of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner — the first large commercial airplane built of carbon fiber materials, making it lightweight and thus far more fuel efficient. “The Dreamliner was a huge leap forward for the industry and is an absolute world leader now,” he says. “But we had well-chronicled delays in delivering the airplane to our customers, due to the complexity of the program — and this led to a fair amount of legal work.”

Some of that work took him to Japan to wrangle contract disputes with Japanese suppliers — but it was again with surprise that he was offered a new position in the company, as president of Boeing Japan. The three years in Tokyo gave him a new depth of knowledge of company operations in one of Boeing’s most important markets. He was asked to return to company headquarters to assume the role of general counsel this year, when the previous general counsel took on a new special position to lead the company’s response to the two accidents involving Boeing’s 737 Max plane.

As general counsel, Gerry will help support the company in the ongoing matters related to those accidents. However, his day-to-day work will be broader in scope, leading a team of 150 lawyers working on a wide range of legal and regulatory issues. He’s particularly excited about overseeing the legal aspects of Boeing’s proposed combination with Embraer, a Brazilian company that designs and sells smaller commercial jets. 

“Boeing has changed the world in its first 100 years,” he says. “It is a privilege to play a small part in supporting the company as it begins its second century of aerospace leadership.”