Our men in the UK: Boeing and EADS put different accent on CEO policy

The appointment of new UK chief executives at Boeing and EADS shows the very different visions of the world’s two biggest aerospace companies when it comes to flying the flag in Europe’s biggest aerospace market.

EADS’s Robin Southwell is an industry man through and through, who made his name and reputation steering through the successful EADS, Rolls-Royce and Thales-led Airtanker consortium bid for the UK’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft deal. EADS says his “track record” leading the diverse partnership convinced them that he was the guy for the job. His predecessor, Sir Jeremy Blackham, though not from industry, worked on the other side of the fence. As one of the Royal Navy’s most senior officers, he was for years someone the UK’s defence contractors knew they had to have on their side. Southwell is certainly an “operator”, who knows how to build relationships with journalists and the importance of PR.

Boeing has gone down a very different road, appointing their second retired ambassador to the post. Sir Roger Bone replaces Sir Michael Jenkins, who became the US company’s first UK CEO two years ago. I’ve not met Sir Roger yet (he joins on 1 September) but Sir Michael was a charming guy, used to dealing with presidents, prime ministers and captains of industry and a speaker of umpteen languages. And while - as someone who held down a string of ambassadorial posts for Her Majesty’s government and later worked in international banking - was no stranger to the business class cabins of airliners, he, by his admission, knew little about the aerospace industry when he joined.

There is a big age difference too. Southwell, at 45, is in the prime of his career. Bone, at 60, recently completed 40 years at the Foreign Office.

While Boeing appears to be putting the accent on diplomacy and long experience, EADS is going for industrial track record. Who has got it right?

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