Wilson had begun at Boeing as a young aeronautical engineer in 1943. He left the firm in 1946 to pursue a master's degree at California Institute of Technology, returned in 1948, but then left again in 1952 after being named a Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This fellowship was sponsored by Boeing for the young engineer who "had already established himself as a no-nonsense leader who demanded (and got) results" (Flom).
Wilson took the reins just as Boeing was receiving huge economic reversals, particularly Congress's withdrawal of the SST (supersonic transport) airplane. Wilson led the firm in retrenchment, involving huge layoffs with regional economic repercussions known as the Boeing Bust. He made valiant but unsuccessful efforts to diversify the firm.
Nevertheless, by 1975, Wilson had engineered the turnaround of Boeing, which continued thriving through the 1980s. He led the firm until his retirement in April 1986.