The chairman of EADS has ruled himself out as its next chief executive and hinted that Louis Gallois could keep the job beyond 2012, easing the lid off a sensitive succession debate at the aerospace group.
Bodo Uebber told a German newspaper he was content with his main job as carmaker Daimler’s finance chief, squashing suggestions that he may be interested in succeeding Gallois.
“I have my dream job, namely being CFO at Daimler,” Uebber told Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview published on Friday, adding that he also “very much likes” being EADS chairman.
“This discussion should not be carried out in the public eye, but rather within the supervisory board and board of management (of EADS),” he added.
Europe’s largest aerospace company has been rocked by Franco-German in-fighting and other internal tensions since coming into being a decade ago through a merger of strategic assets from airliners to ballistics.
Uebber’s remarks mark the start of a delicate year-long succession process at the Airbus parent firm in which statements by senior officials will be closely scrutinised.
Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders is widely seen as the EADS chief executive-in-waiting after France and Germany agreed in 2007 to simplify the company’s management structure and appoint Frenchman Gallois as CEO and Uebber as chairman until 2012.
But there had been speculation that Uebber would put himself forward for the CEO job, which is more visible than the chairman role and leads European efforts to compete with Boeing. There has also been speculation that Gallois, 66, would stay temporarily beyond 2012, following a relatively peaceful period internally which is positively reflected in its share price.
Uebber left the door ajar to Gallois remaining in the post in a separate interview with Le Monde.
When asked about the CEO succession, he said: “Many people are interested in the subject — if (Gallois) were to leave, of course.”
Gallois has so far said only that he will complete his current mandate which expires in mid-2012.
EADS was founded in 2000 through a merger of French, German and Spanish aerospace assets. To preserve a Franco-German power balance jobs have often been allocated according to nationality, but Gallois has insisted that EADS should become more unified.
Uebber predicted an end to job allocation by nationality which analysts say reflected Franco-German tensions in the past.
“We really don’t need the formal aspects anymore, I believe that the distribution of management posts automatically creates a natural balance. Eventually, there will no longer be any formal rules,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
However he said France and Germany would have to be in step over any future changes in the shareholder structure.
“It is important that the ownership structure is further developed in a balanced manner,” Uebber said.
“We have certain stakes in the structure that may not prove stable in the long term. In addition, we have banks in there as well. The agreement with the consortium is valid through 2012, but eventually there will also be a change there.”
Daimler owns 15 percent of EADS and shares effective control with French media group Lagardere which owns 7.5 percent. The French government owns 15 percent but its influence over strategic decisions is limited by a shareholder pact. Commenting on Airbus, Uebber said he believes that the A380 superjumbo will be profitable over its entire lifetime.
“It has 50 years ahead of it, has no competition, and this is not just about selling planes but also about spare parts and maintenance.” Airbus has said it will be profitable by 2014-15.
He criticised engine maker Rolls-Royce for its handling of the recent blowout of one of its engines on a Qantas A380 with 466 people on board.
“Rolls-Royce could have communicated a little bit more proactively; on the other hand that is only possible on the basis of facts,” he told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.