Airbus CEO Is Said Planning to Leave When Term Ends in 2019

(Bloomberg) -- Airbus SE is preparing for a complete overhaul of its top management, with the two most senior executives readying their departure as the European planemaker grapples with corruption allegations.

Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders plans to step down when his term ends in 2019, while Chief Operating Officer Fabrice Bregier is also set to leave, possibly as soon as February, said people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the decision hasn’t been announced publicly.

Guillaume Faury, CEO of the helicopters business, will take Bregier’s place at No. 2, becoming first in line to take over the top job when Enders retires, one of the people said.

Enders will still be with the company for “quite a while,” he said by email, declining to comment specifically on reports that he won’t’ stand for a new term. “Reports about my demise were premature!” he said, referring to articles in French newspapers this week.

The management changes, to be announced as soon as Friday, come as Airbus grapples with corruption claims related to ongoing bribery investigations. Enders, who turns 59 on Dec. 21, has warned the probe may lead to “significant penalties” and is trying to convince investigators in France and the U.K. that Airbus is serious about cleaning house as it works to get past the controversy.

Airbus can’t afford to let the succession drag. As well as contending with the corruption claims, the Toulouse, France-based company is pondering whether to scrap its flagship A380 superjumbo model amid sluggish demand. Germany and France are major investors in the planemaker, and the top two jobs normally rotate between nationals of the two countries.

Airbus declined to comment on succession matters. The company is due to hold its annual investor meeting in April after reporting full-year earnings on Feb. 15, when it may provide an update on the bribery claims. Kepler Cheuvreux said Wednesday that its target price for the stock assumes a penalty provision of 2.5 billion euros ($3 billion).

Bregier, who heads the commercial planes division, was told earlier this year that he wouldn’t get the top job and has been looking for other opportunities since, according to people familiar with the matter. The 56-year-old Frenchman and had been the favorite to replace the German Enders. However, Bregier oversees one of the businesses that’s been caught up in the probes of alleged corruption related to the use of middlemen in aircraft sales.

Enders rose through the ranks at Airbus and was appointed chief after previously running the commercial planemaking unit -- the usual springboard to the top job. His record as CEO has been mixed.

Enders Scorecard

PositivesNegatives
Turned Airbus into a single entityCouldn’t pull off merger with BAE
Launched fast-selling A320neoFailed to revive A380 program
Slimmed down ailing defense armStruggled with production rampups
Oversaw development of A350 jetStymied by government meddling
Tripled company’s’ share priceMiddlemen bribery probes
Bombardier C Series stake coup

Airbus has already seen a partial 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 candidate, Eric Schulz from Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, to succeed Leahy, highlighting how the company is keen to inject new blood.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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