Meet Patrick Shanahan, the former Boeing executive nicknamed 'Mr. Fix-It' who's replacing General James Mattis as Defence secretary

  • Patrick Shanahan, the deputy defence secretary, will succeed defence secretary James Mattis and serve as acting defence secretary at the Pentagon.
  • Before being appointed as Mattis’ deputy in 2017, Shanahan worked as a Boeing executive for decades.
  • The Washington state native was known throughout Boeing as a problem-solving “Mr. Fix-It.”

It’s official – deputy defence secretary Patrick Shanahan will be taking the helm at the Pentagon as acting secretary of defence.

James Mattis, who resigned from the position over US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria, will be forced out of the role before 2019. In his resignation letter, Mattis had offered to stay on for two months in order to facilitate a smooth transition.

Read more: Trump is forcing out Defence secretary James Mattis by New Year’s instead of allowing him to stay another 2 months

Instead, Trump announced his new pick in a tweet on Sunday. He praised Shanahan, writing: “Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!”

But who exactly is Shanahan, and what sort of experience will the Washington state native and father of three bring to the role?

Here’s a look back at Shanahan’s life and career:


The eldest of three boys, Shanahan was born in 1962 to Michael and Jo-Anne Shanahan. Michael Shanahan was a law enforcement officer and a Vietnam vet, who was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service.

Source: Senate Armed Services Committee, The Department of Defence


“Growing up, my understanding of the war came from my dad, his friends and the few stories they would share,” Shanahan said in an article posted to the Department of Defence’s website.

Source: The Department of Defence


During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shanahan said that his father had also instilled a creed of “service before self” in him and his younger brothers as they grew up.

Source: Senate Armed Services Committee


As deputy defence secretary, Shanahan kept a picture of his father hanging on the wall of his office, just over his father’s Bronze Star.

Source: The Department of Defence


A native of Washington state, Shanahan attended the University of Washington, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. He remained involved with the school later in life, too. Starting in 2012, he served on the university’s board of regents for five years.

Source: US Department of Defence,The Daily at the University of Washington


Shanahan’s education didn’t stop there, though. He went on to earn both a master’s in mechanical engineering and an MBA from MIT as well.

Source: US Department of Defence


In 1986, he embarked on a decades-long career at Boeing.

Source: US Department of Defence


There, he led projects like Boeing Missile Defence Systems and Boeing Rotorcraft System.

Source: US Department of Defence


Over the years, he acquired a reputation as a sort of “Mr. Fix-It” within the company.

Stephen Brashear / Stringer / Getty Images

Source: The New York Times, Seattle Times, The Los Angeles Times


According to The New York Times, Shanahan was widely credited with saving the company’s troubled 787 Dreamliner project in 2007.

Source: The New York Times


He rose to the rank of Boeing’s senior vice president of supply chain and operations.

Source: US Department of Defence


His political donations appear to have been fairly even-handed between the two major parties. Between 1990 and 2016, Shanahan donated $US6,250 to Republican and conservative causes and politicians, and $US5,000 to Democratic and liberal causes and politicians.

Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

Source: Center for Responsive Politics


According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he donated nothing to Trump, Trump’s campaign committee, and other Trump allies.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics


Less than a year after squabbling with Boeing over the cost of Air Force One, Trump announced that he planned to appoint the longtime aerospace exec to the position of deputy director of defence on March 16, 2017.

Source: GeekWire, Business Insider


But the confirmation wasn’t a smooth process for the businessman.

Source: CNN, C-Span


During the proceedings, the late Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain accused Shanahan of dodging questions about supporting Ukraine in their conflict with Russia.

McCain took issue with Shanahan’s lukewarm response to arming Ukraine.

Source: CNN, C-Span


But the Senate ultimately confirmed Shanahan in a 92-7 vote on July 18, 2017.

Source: CNN


Shanahan said he and Mattis developed a good working relationship at the Pentagon. “He understands the lethal part and I am the engineer who can get it,” he said in an article on the Department of Defence’s website.

Source: The Department of Defence


He also called the talent in the Department of Defence “incredible.” Shanahan will take over from Mattis starting on January 1, 2019.

Source: The Department of Defence


In an article posted on the Department of Defence’s website, Shanahan said that the “operational” side of working at the Pentagon wasn’t intimidating, but added, “The difference is the consequences. If you get something wrong here, it’s huge.”

Source: The Department of Defence

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