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Airbus: Major shifting in top management

Airbus: Major shifting in top management

Airbus confirmed the departure of chief Fabrice Bregier as part of a series of board moves on Friday to clear the air over succession plans following weeks of speculation surrounding Europe’s largest aerospace firm.

The Board of Directors of Airbus SE has decided on a series of Executive changes that ensure an orderly succession in the Executive leadership of Airbus.

Tom Enders (59) has advised the Board that he does not wish to seek another term as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) beyond his current mandate which runs until the 2019 Annual Shareholders Meeting (April 2019).

“The privilege of serving this great company comes with a responsibility to support a smooth succession when the time is ripe. In 2019, I will have served all together 14 years at the helm of Airbus and EADS. It’s been a long and exciting journey but now is the time to initiate a leadership change. We need fresh minds for the 2020s. In the coming 16 months, I will work with the Board to ensure a smooth transition to the next CEO and a new generation of leaders; I will focus on our business challenges; and I will further progress and strengthen our ethics and compliance programmes,” said Tom Enders.

Fabrice Brégier (56), Airbus Chief Operating Officer (COO) & President Airbus Commercial Aircraft has indicated to the Board that, as he does not intend to be part of the selection process for the CEO position in 2019, he will step down in February 2018 and pursue other interests.

“After 25 years with the company including five years as MBDA CEO, four years as CEO of Eurocopter and eleven years as COO, CEO or President of Airbus commercial aircraft, I feel the time is right to pursue other opportunities outside. I have been fully dedicated to Airbus and to its success during all these years, and up to my departure next year I will remain focused on meeting Airbus’ commitments to all stakeholders and on ensuring a smooth handover to my successor,” commented Fabrice Brégier.

“I understand Fabrice’s decision and his motives and, frankly, I would not have done differently,” said Enders. “Many of the achievements this company can be proud of over the past decade were led by Fabrice and me, together. Airbus is deeply grateful for his outstanding contribution to the operational excellence and competitiveness of our business.”

Guillaume Faury (49), currently CEO of Airbus Helicopters, will succeed Fabrice in his role as President Airbus Commercial Aircraft.

“I am honoured to have been entrusted with this new challenge, and I look forward to leading the inspiring commercial aircraft business of Airbus,” said Guillaume Faury.

“Guillaume represents our next generation of leaders and has demonstrated broad business and industry experience, an international mindset and a clear focus on delivering value during his tenure at the helm of our helicopter business. I look forward to working with him in his new role,” Enders said. “Guillaume’s succession at Airbus Helicopters will be decided and announced in the coming weeks.”

During 2018 the Board of Directors will assess both internal and external executives for the CEO role with a view to announcing Tom Enders’ successor in good time for confirmation at the 2019 AGM.

“The Board of Directors is responsible for ensuring orderly succession planning and the continuous development of the executive pipeline. We are confident we have taken the right decisions to ensure Airbus’ long term stability and future success and we fully support
Tom Enders to lead Airbus through this generational handover with our full support,” said Denis Ranque, Chairman of the Board of Airbus.

“I am very grateful to Fabrice Brégier for his dedication to the company during all these years and for his contribution to the success of Airbus, with its integration, its remarkable international development and the successful launch of new programmes such as the A350, the A320neo and the A330neo. We understand his desire to use this opportunity of change at the top of the company to pursue new opportunities after 25 years,” said Ranque.

The move gives rival Chief Executive Tom Enders a free hand for the rest of what will now be his last term as CEO, ending in April 2019, but also casts him as a caretaker as Airbus looks for fresh blood to lead it out of a growing corruption scandal.

Confirming details reported by Reuters on Thursday, Airbus said Bregier would be replaced in February as president of the main plane-making division by fellow Frenchman Guillaume Faury, the 49-year-old chief of Airbus Helicopters, who has also worked in automobiles.

German-born Enders, who had earlier this year voiced interest in staying beyond 2019, will now step down at the end of his current term, saying in a statement it was time for “fresh minds for the 2020s”.

Shares in Airbus remained broadly flat. “Fabrice … was very popular with airlines for his rapid response and attention to details. Airbus has a big pool of talent … and will power on with new leadership,” Peter Bellew, chief operations officer at Ryanair and former CEO of Malaysia Airlines, told Reuters.

Airbus officials sought to dampen speculation that Enders had a hand in his deputy’s departure and presented the move as the work of an independent board. But analysts said the push for a fresh start had curtailed the ambitions of both executives, ending a longstanding but troubled partnership at the helm of Airbus. Even so, many saw Enders as a clear winner.

Enders in 2014 froze payments to middlemen and later shared an audit revealing misleading filings with UK authorities, but has seen his authority challenged as the discovery triggered UK and French fraud investigations and a backlash in France. “It means two things: that despite his wishes, Enders could be replaced, and it would not automatically be Bregier,” a senior source with close links to the company said.

The overhaul is not directly connected to investigations but both men appear to have suffered collateral damage from the probes, which made their differences clearer, one source said. The company said the board had acted to secure an orderly succession at the world’s second-largest planemaker.

During 2018, the board will look both inside and outside for a successor to 58-year-old Enders “in good time” for confirmation at the 2019 annual shareholder meeting, it said.

The shake-up came after Bregier, a 56-year-old who has long been seen as the natural heir to Enders, told the board he did not intend to be part of the selection process for 2019 and would therefore step down in February to “pursue other interests” — widely viewed as code for not being short-listed.

Enders said he would work to ensure a smooth transition. However, both scarcely tried to mask tensions as Bregier recalled changes of title — a pointed reminder of a bitter feud with Enders — while Enders said he agreed with Bregier’s decision “and frankly, I would not have done differently”.

Some sources said Bregier had sought support from the French government and Airbus’s French chairman, prompting the board to show its muscle. But the selection process will remain under scrutiny from investors worried about any return to past efforts by shareholders France or Germany to tilt appointments.

“We believe the worst thing that could happen at Airbus in the coming 12-24 months is for evidence of political considerations coming to the fore,” Jefferies analyst Sandy Morris said.

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