|European aerospace giant EADS faces the prospect of another turbulent transition period, with extensive personnel changes and a possible realignment of its shareholding structure.
The personnel upheaval could be even greater than what was already expected. Airbus’s long-serving sales chief, John Leahy, says he may depart the company next year in addition to the anticipated leadership transition at the top of EADS and Airbus.
Leahy, currently the chief operating officer for customers, has been one of the constants at the organization, even when other managers were reshuffled. During the last major period of turbulence at EADS and Airbus, in 2006, when A380 problems led to the ouster of EADS CEO Noel Forgeard and the aircraft-making unit suffered the departure of two CEOs—Gustav Humbert and, 100 days later, Christian Streiff—Leahy is credited with managing relations with customers.
What’s more, Leahy’s deep connections with airline customers have led him to serve as a sounding board for Airbus about the health of the business. That role came into particularly sharp focus in 2007 and 2008, when Airbus and Boeing were confronting a global recession and trying to gauge the impact on deliveries and production rates. Even as outside analysts and leasing companies spoke of the necessity for deep cuts, Leahy urged moderation. Reality proved him right, but he bristles at overly negative forecasts made by analysts—who, he feels, created uncertainty throughout the industrial supply chain.
The question of who may eventually succeed Leahy has long been an issue of speculation within Airbus and the wider airframer community, not least because of the American’s sometimes controversial persona. One often-named candidate is Nico Buchholz, who heads Lufthansa’s corporate fleet. Buchholz is a former Airbus executive and longtime Leahy acquaintance.
Leahy’s departure will occur around the time when EADS CEO Louis Gallois’s term expires—next summer. Transition plans call for Airbus CEO Tom Enders to take over; his job would be filled by Airbus COO Fabrice Bregier. But EADS is not waiting until 2012 for the musical-chairs scenario to begin: Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling’s mandate will expire this year, although it may be extended.