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SINGAPORE — BAE Systems has confirmed the appointment of oil executive Charles Woodburn as the company’s chief operating officer and heir apparent to CEO Ian King.

News of Woodburn’s anticipated appointment broke over the weekend, but has now been officially announced by the world’s third-largest defense company.

Woodburn is currently CEO at Expro, a $1.4 billion turnover a year oil field services business privately held by a consortium of companies including Goldman Sachs.

The executive, an electrical engineer, was previously with oil field services giant Schlumberger, where his most senior role was as vice president of engineering and manufacturing.

Woodburn would be the first outsider to become CEO since BAE was formed in 1999, as well as the youngest.

The COO role will allow Woodburn to learn the industrial and political intricacies of the defense sector before stepping up to take over from long-serving BAE boss King.

BAE has given no date when that handover may take place but the process could take more than a year before a decision is taken on Woodburn’s elevation to CEO.

King has been at the helm of BAE since 2008.

The last time BAE had a COO was when King himself was CEO-in-waiting ahead of taking over from Mike Turner.

Sir Roger Carr, BAE’s chairman and an ex-energy sector boss himself said he was “delighted that we have secured an individual of considerable talent and proven industrial experience as part of our succession-planning program. Charles will bring fresh perspective to the company’s operations and board, whilst building a detailed knowledge of the defense industry under the guidance of Ian King.”

Woodburn joins the executive board in the second quarter of the year.

One senior industry source who asked not to be quoted said bringing in an outsider could be a good move.

"If he has the ability then the concept of bringing in a top person from a different engineering background is probably a good one," he said. "Ian King has been a steward of the business but the next leader will have to find a way of taking it forward. Their strategic position is not easy."

Industry consultant Howard Wheeldon of Wheeldon Strategic welcomed the appointment.

“Experience and thought leadership and the ability to help drive the company forward in an era of change are what BAE was looking for. In Woodburn, they have secured someone who is well-respected internationally and an executive that can bring new energy and direction as the company moves forward into an ever changing world.”

“Delivery and the ability to embrace change is what matters and Woodburn has all the qualities and experience to do that. Going for an external candidate to fill this hugely important position will I believe be embraced by the city for what it says. Far more important that the company looks to the future rather than the past and that he comes without carrying any baggage of history is hugely important. If BAE was looking for new thinking, they have found it in abundance,” he said.

Email: achuter@defensenews.com

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