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Originally published Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Jumbo freighter's program manager 'listens to people on the line'

Mohammad Yahyavi, vice president and general manager of Boeing's 747 program, walks the production line a couple of times every day and checks in with the line workers who know him as 'Mo.'

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

A couple of times every day, Mohammad "Mo" Yahyavi, vice president and general manager of Boeing's 747 program, walks the production line and stops to talk with workers.

"They know me by 'Mo,' " Yahyavi said, "They give me ideas every day."

Yahyavi's personal warmth and humility has earned him a reciprocal respect from those on the production floor.

"Mo is a great guy," said one of his 747 assembly workers, who can't be named because he spoke without Boeing authorization. "He's very personable. He's a really hard worker. And he listens to people on the line. From a mechanic's standpoint, that is fantastic, because he's in a position to make things happen."

Yahyavi, 63, is a rich cultural mix.

Born in Tehran, he won a scholarship straight out of high school to study at the Italian Naval Academy so that he could become an officer in the Shah of Iran's Imperial Navy. While at the academy Yahyavi met his Italian wife of 39 years.

In August 1978, he came to study at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., only to be blindsided by the Islamic revolution in his homeland. More than 30 years later, he has never been back.

"Because I was working very closely with the U.S. Navy when I was in Iran, it was not really advisable to return," he said.

Cut off from his roots, he got a master's in aerospace engineering from the Navy's Monterey school, then joined Boeing. He is now proudly an American.

"America is the only place I know that can open the door of opportunity to anyone. I love America," he said. "If one day I have the opportunity as an American citizen to go back and visit (Iran), I will be more than happy to do that. But not now."

Starting out at Boeing as a propulsion engineer in 1980, he rose into the executive ranks. Before taking the 747 post a year ago, Yahyavi successfully managed the production and rollout in Renton of the P-8A Poseidon, the 737-based anti-submarine plane for the U.S. Navy.

Now he's devoted to the 747-8, seven long days a week.

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Yahyavi leaves home in Bellevue about 5 a.m. and starts each day with a routine morning check on the three airplanes being readied for flight.

He meets with his managers at 7 a.m. to set the day's goals and again at 3 p.m. to review progress.

He works the same hours on weekends. The only holidays he has taken recently were Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Despite last fall's three-month delay that slid the plane a full year behind its original schedule, success now seems close with first flight imminent. Characteristically, he shares credit for the program's turnaround with those who work under him.

"I've got lots of heroes here," Yahyavi said.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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