Airbus’s experiment with an external successor to its sales supremo John Leahy lasted barely 230 days before the difficulties of maintaining smooth continuity became publicly apparent.

With chief commercial officer Eric Schulz’s sudden departure, Airbus has taken the opportunity effectively to resume normal service.

Christian Scherer had been among the front-running candidates to succeed Leahy – he had effectively once been Leahy’s deputy – and was the immediate choice as Schulz, just seven months into the job, left.

Scherer has extensive and broad knowledge of the Airbus operation, having served its commercial, defence and space arms, as well as heading the ATR affiliate, and crucially has occupied significant strategic roles – playing a key part in shaping Airbus’s future programmes approach, including development of the A320neo.

He has a reputation within Airbus of fostering good relationships with customers, and is regarded as an international thinker. Scherer’s German-French background even bridges the thorny nationality issue Airbus has traditionally had to negotiate.

Airbus has not elaborated on the specific reasons behind Schulz’s decision to step down, referring only to “personal reasons”.

If Leahy was already the proverbial tough act to follow, the circumstances under which Schulz was appointed placed substantial additional pressure on the daunting task of building on Leahy’s achievements.

The airframer had been considering whether to recruit internally or externally for the role that Leahy had occupied for well over two decades. Facing legal strife from investigators probing fraud allegations, Airbus had to weigh the advantages of familiarity and seamlessness against the need for a visible clear-out of senior management.

While Schulz had a strong industry pedigree, having headed Rolls-Royce’s civil aerospace and large engines divisions, Airbus’s decision to recruit from the engine manufacturer bore perception risks, not least because Rolls-Royce had been dealing with the fallout from its own high-profile fraud inquiry.

Rolls-Royce had also been trying, at the time, to contain an emerging customer crisis with the Trent 1000 powerplant, a situation which has not only generated friction with operators but has also left Airbus having to reassure that the Trent problems will not carry over to its own future long-haul twinjets, which are exclusively fitted with Trent engines, albeit with differing architectures to the Trent 1000.

Airbus has continued to struggle with long-haul aircraft sales this year. Over the first eight months of 2018, it improved on the previous year with net firm agreements for 58 aircraft – but none for its A350-1000 and just 10 for the A330neo. Several orders claimed as firm during the Farnborough air show have yet to be recorded as such in the Airbus backlog. Rival Boeing, in the same eight-month period, took orders for 157 long-haul jets.

The European airframer’s relations with single-aisle customers have also been tested as a result of delivery delays to the A320neo family – a consequence of technical issues, primarily with the Pratt & Whitney engine.

Airbus declines to comment on whether Schulz, as an external recruit, had adapted easily to its processes. It also declines to comment on the nature of relations between members of the senior management team.

Schulz had originally been named as executive vice-president and chief of sales, marketing and contracts – although within six weeks of his appointment, Airbus was referring to him as chief commercial officer.

He had a more visible media presence at the Farnborough air show, hardly appearing with Airbus commercial aircraft president Guillaume Faury, who has adopted a lower profile than his predecessor Fabrice Bregier since taking over in February.

Scherer’s own relationship with Faury will doubtless be scrutinised following his appointment, and ahead of the critical decision on Tom Enders’ succession, when Airbus will again have to consider whether to look inside or out.

In the interim Airbus will be looking to Scherer – once introduced at a briefing as the “head of the Harry Potter department” – to replicate some of Leahy’s magic touch.

Source: Cirium Dashboard