Airbus SE appointed Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc’s Eric Schulz as sales chief, plucking a top executive from one of its most important partners to replace John Leahy, who racked up more than $1.7 trillion dollars in jetliner deals over 23 years.

Schulz, 54, the head of civil aerospace at the U.K. engine maker, will join Airbus as an executive vice president and chief of sales, marketing and contracts, the Toulouse, France-based planemaker said in a statement Tuesday. Leahy, 67, will stay on for a short transition period. He’ll be a tough act to follow, after Airbus sold more than 16,000 aircraft under his leadership.

Schulz inherits a set of challenges, ranging from slow-selling products like the A380 to its re-engined version of the smaller A330neo, designed to help stave off losses to Boeing Co.’s bestselling 787. His selection also highlights Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders’s willingess to bring in an outsider to lead the sales organization as Airbus goes through investigations into its use of middlemen to close deals.

The company confirmed Tuesday that it was the subject of a new raid by French authorities in recent days in relation to its dealings in Kazakhstan, highlighting the urgency of the probes.

After first joining Rolls-Royce in 2010, Schulz was appointed to its executive team in 2013 at the start of investigations by the U.S. and U.K. into the engine-maker’s own use of third-party agents to secure turbine deals. He navigated the upheaval of Rolls’s sales and compliance processes at its biggest division, helping the company avoid charges and reach a settlement of 670 million pounds ($797 million). He was promoted to his current role in January last year.

Earlier in his career, Schulz spent seven years at U.S.-based Goodrich Corp. London-based Rolls is a key supplier to Airbus models, with exclusive deals to power the latest A350 wide-body and A330neo.

‘Broad Experience’

Schulz brings “broad international experience in the aerospace industry, a deep understanding of airline operations and aero engines as well as a proven track record in building and effectively leading organizations,” Enders said.

Airbus was little changed at 85.75 euros as of 10:23 a.m. in Paris. The shares have advanced 36 percent this year.

Leahy, while unveiling a record $50 billion narrow-body plane deal at the Dubai Air Show this month, hasn’t been able to secure a vital follow-on order for the slow-selling A380 superjumbo, as a deal with Emirates fell apart at the last minute. It’s still possible that he could secure the contract before he leaves.

Airbus and Schulz also face the challenge of whether to further stretch the biggest -1000 variant of the A350, and how to respond if arch rival Boeing Co. goes ahead with plans to develop a new mid-market aircraft fitting between the single-aisle and wide-body sectors.

Enders said in the statement that Leahy’s “tremendous fighting spirit” had played a key role in propelling Airbus “from an industry underdog to a world leader.”

Schulz was born in France and holds degrees in mechanical engineering from the Geneva Engineering School and in aeronautical engineering from the ESTA Engineering and Technology School in Paris.

He began his aerospace career at Aerospatiale/Sogerma before diverging into the airline industry from 1989, where he worked at UTA French Airlines and later became president of British Airways-owned Air Liberte.

From 2000 Schulz spent three years working in the U.S. at European Aeronautic, Defence & Space, which later changed its name to Airbus, before his move to Goodrich and then Rolls.


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Tags: airbus, Boeing
Photo Credit: Eric Schulz is Airbus' new executive vice president and chief of sales, marketing and contracts. The 54-year-old is taking over from John Leahy. Bloomberg