Airbus SE faces the prospect of having to find a new leader after Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders reportedly decided not to stand for a third term, sparking a leadership contest just as the plane maker grapples with a bribery probe and slack demand for its biggest airliner.
Enders won’t renew his mandate when it expires in May 2019, French newspaper Le Figaro reported, without saying where it got the information. The company board will endorse his decision at a meeting on Dec. 14 and formalize his move early next year, the newspaper said. Rainer Ohler, a spokesman for Toulouse, France-based Airbus, said no decision has been taken and said the report is “pure media speculation.”
Enders’ leadership at one of Europe’s premiere manufacturers has been strained by a bribery investigation spanning several markets, and the CEO himself has cautioned employees that the outcome might be painful for the company. Enders, who is German, rose through the ranks at Airbus and oversaw the commercial plane making unit before becoming head of the entire operation, the typical springboard to assume the company’s top job.
Running Airbus comes with political baggage, as both the French and the German governments own stakes in the company and closely watch a finely tuned balance of power. This means that the nationality of the CEO and the head of the commercial-plane units typically alternate between a Frenchman and a German, which would make Fabrice Bregier the next logical choice to take over from Enders.
Bregier, too, may leave the company if he doesn’t get the top job, Figaro said. He may depart next year and be replaced by a German, Les Echos reported separately, citing unidentified people familiar with the deliberations. The board will discuss the matter at its meeting on Thursday, Les Echos said. Airbus dismissed the reports on Bregier’s future as “pure speculation.”
Enders has attempted to turn Airbus into what he called a normal company that’s not tied to the political whims of its biggest shareholders. This push followed his unsuccessful attempt to combine Airbus with U.K. arms company BAE Systems Plc, a plan that was blocked amid German government opposition.
His commercial forays have been more successful. Under his watch, Airbus launched an upgrade version of the A320 single-aisle aircraft, turning the so-called neo into the fastest-selling jet in commercial aviation history. He also oversaw the launch of the A350 wide-body. The A380 double-decker, which was hatched before Enders took over, has been a commercial flop, struggling for years to win a broad based of customers.
Airbus has already seen an overhaul of its senior management ranks. Marwan Lahoud, its head of strategy, departed last year, while John Leahy, the head of sales and a fixture at the company for decades, announced his decision to retire a few weeks ago. Airbus picked an external manager from Rolls-Royce Group Plc to succeed Leahy, highlighting how the company is keen to inject fresh blood into the company.
–With assistance from Benjamin Katz and Ania Nussbaum
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.