Ed Koopman, site general manager of the Boeing Co.’s Mesa helicopter works and the company’s prime spokesman in the East Valley, will retire July 1, ending a 43-year career with Boeing and its predecessor, McDonnell Douglas.
Koopman, 64, came to Mesa in 1995 from a McDonnell Douglas plant in Titusville, Fla., where he had been head of operations for the Tomahawk cruise missile program. His first job in Mesa as operations manager was to consolidate four other McDonnell Douglas operations that were moved to Mesa as part of a post-Cold War downsizing of the defense industry.
In 1997, McDonnell Douglas was bought by Boeing, and in 2000 Koopman was named the Mesa site general manager, the highest executive position at the plant.
In one of the major operational changes during his tenure in Mesa, the plant implemented a new moving assembly line system for manufacturing its signature product — the AH-64D Apache Longbow combat helicopter. Such efficiency improvements have helped keep the cost of producing the Apache under the rate of inflation, he said.
“Putting lean efficiencies into Apache production has yielded steady sales domestically and internationally,” he said. “That has helped us create a fairly steady work environment.”
More than 5,000 people worked at the complex at 5000 E. McDowell Road following the consolidation of the various McDonnell Douglas operations. Today that number is about 4,700. Most of the loss has been due to the efficiency improvements, but the plant has been able to avoid large-scale layoffs in recent years. When cuts are needed, the company has avoided hiring replacements when employees leave, he said.
“The greatest challenge here, as in every business . . . is maintaining the work force,” he said. “Our most important asset is our people, and you have to be sensitive to people’s needs.”
Koopman is especially proud of the work the company has done in the community.
Boeing and its employees have contributed more than $10 million to the Mesa United Way in the past decade, and Koopman was chairman of the United Way fundraising campaign in 2003 and 2004.
Also Koopman has directed Boeing into vigorous support for local education, sponsoring such programs as an academy to help Mesa teachers improve their skills in teaching math to their students, providing grants to certify science teachers and sending a local teacher to a space camp in Huntsville, Ala., each year.
Koopman also is a strong supporter of early childhood development programs.
If he hadn’t gone into the aerospace business, he might have been a grade school teacher. “I like kids,” he said.
Although he has become attached to Mesa and Arizona, Koopman and his wife will retire to a small town near Atlanta to be closer to his children and grandchildren, who live in Georgia and Alabama.
“We have enjoyed Arizona more than any other place we’ve lived, but there is a time in life when you have to make other value judgments,” he said.
Carol McCormack, president of Mesa United Way, said Koopman’s retirement will leave a big void in the community.
“He’s been a great advocate for children,” she said, adding that Boeing’s support for community programs “has helped change thousands of people’s lives.”