May 28, 2023

Trichet Nominated to Board of Airbus Parent

PARIS — Jean-Claude Trichet, the former head of the European Central Bank, was nominated Thursday to the board of EADS, the parent company of Airbus, as part of a long-anticipated reshuffling of the group’s senior management that carefully preserves the balance of French and German representation in the executive suite.

Mr. Trichet, 69, will assume the board seat of his compatriot, Arnaud Lagardère, 50, who will be promoted to chairman in June, a post held by Bodo Uebber, a German.

Thomas O. Enders, the 53-year-old chief executive of Airbus, and a German, will succeed Louis Gallois as the EADS chief executive, European Aeronautic Defense and Space, as EADS is formally known, said in a statement. Mr. Gallois, a Frenchman, turned 68 on Thursday and is set to retire later this year.

Mr. Enders will be succeeded at Airbus by Fabrice Brégier, 50, currently the plane maker’s chief operating officer. Mr. Brégier, who is French, will be succeeded by Günter Butschek, 50, of Germany.

The appointments are expected to take effect following a ratification by shareholders at their annual general meeting on May 31.

“The management is grateful that the board has taken these wide-ranging decisions, in a dispassionate climate, and in time to facilitate a professional transition,” Mr. Gallois said.

The senior executive appointments had been telegraphed by company managers for months, but a final decision was delayed in part by French concerns that too many of the group’s key posts would be held by Germans, according to one person with knowledge of the discussions who requested anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the issue.

One key post that will remain occupied by a German in the wake of the reshuffle, for example, is that of chief financial officer. Hans Peter Ring, 61, who steered the group through a wrenching program of cost cuts that followed the A380 production crisis in 2006, will retire and be succeeded by Harald Wilhelm, 45, currently the finance chief at Airbus.

The naming of Mr. Trichet, who is also a former governor of the Bank of France, is likely to have assuaged some of the French concerns, analysts said.

One last thorny issue remains unresolved, however. The board put off making any proposals for a new structure that would enable greater flexibility in the group’s share ownership while preserving the delicate balance of French and German interests in the group.

A shareholder pact that dates from the group’s creation in 2000 stipulates that the French and German stakes in EADS must be equal. But Mr. Gallois and other top group managers have been pressing for a new arrangement that would allow any investor to buy or sell shares freely in the company, while still giving Paris and Berlin influence over key decisions.

Moreover, because of the strategic importance of EADS, both Paris and Berlin have been eager to retain the power to block any potential hostile takeover by a foreign entity.

Currently, Mr. Lagardère’s media-to-missiles conglomerate owns a 7.5 percent stake in EADS, while the French government holds 15 percent. Daimler, the German automaker, owns 15 percent and an alliance of German private and public sector banks holds 7.5 percent.

Both Daimler and Lagardère have made clear in recent years that they do not view their EADS holdings as core to their operations, and the French and German governments have struggled to broker a sale of the shares in a way that would preserve the ownership balance.

Media reports last year indicated that the German state development bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, or KfW, was poised to acquire half of Daimler’s holding later this year. France has yet to identify a buyer for Lagardère’s stake.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 26, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the European Aeronautic Defense and Space board was to meet in Berlin. It planned to meet in Amsterdam.

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