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Extended Interview: Mark McGraw, vice president of Boeing’s tanker program

Mark McGraw, vice president of Boeing's tanker program, expresses his dismay at the Air Force granting the air tanker contract to Nothrop Grumman and the steps Boeing is taking in response.

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    What were your expectations going into this tanker competition and … did you consider yourself, as some people had told us they considered you the odds on favorite to win?

    MARK McGRAW, vice president of Boeing's tanker program: Well, we always felt confident that we had the right solution, but if you go back to the beginning of the process and it's really kind of a long one, I mean the process for me has been going on for about two years when the initial analysis of alternatives and then we went through the request for information process, then going through the draft request for proposals, finally getting the proposals, submitting proposals, getting feedback from the Air Force and working Q&A if you will with them and ultimately coming to the final proposal revision and then the decision.

    A lengthy process over two years really felt throughout that, you know, obviously we had our challenges, but we were very confident of our platform and I think in the end we still feel we had the more capable platform. We were much lower cost and we had the added advantage of we were going to support more American jobs than our competitor.


    Come decision day, what was your reaction?


    Shock and surprise. I mean, it's obviously a moment in a day I will never forget in my career. Very tough because we had expected to win. We felt confident and I think the feeling on the street, even with our competitor the day before was that we were going to win this competition. And then to hear it and then the shock and then frankly was very concerned when we were hearing things that were leaking out that it had been a slam dunk.

    Northrop won four out of five sections. Some of those things was very concerning because again all of the feedback we'd gotten from the Air Force throughout the process was very, very positive…

    When we went into the debrief, expected to kind of hear finally why we had not been selected in this competition and got a very detailed brief on the Air Force and it was kind of again, kind of a surreal day in the sense that I was expecting to get a wire brush pretty good during that debriefing, but at the end of the briefing frankly I felt I had just heard the winner's brief, but still had the nightmare that we weren't selected. I mean they loved our airplane.

    We had many more strengths than our competitor, but at the end they would kind of take what I'll call kind of trivial capabilities of the competitor, bring those up to major discriminators, a lot of our major discriminators were diminished. It almost felt like a briefing that was supposed to be our winner's brief had been turned into a one that was given to us as not selected. But that also gave us encouragement frankly to look at this real hard as far as the protest.