ROME — As speculation mounts in Italy over the government’s choice of a new CEO for state-controlled defense giant Leonardo, one thing seems certain: The job is staying in-house this time.

With current CEO Alessandro Profumo reaching the end of his second three-year mandate this spring, the Italian government is mulling a new boss for the firm and looks set to buck the recent trend of hiring outsiders.

“This time they want someone who knows the business and does not have to start from scratch,” said an Italian industry insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“In today’s geo-political climate you cannot afford to give a new CEO a year and half to get to know the company,” he added.

Profumo took over Leonardo in 2017 after a career in banking, while his predecessor Mauro Moratti had run Italy’s rail network before he was named to run the firm.

With the next CEO set to be appointed between late March and mid-April, the source confirmed the two main candidates for the job were currently Roberto Cingolani and Lorenzo Mariani, both Leonardo employees.

Cingolani, 61, first joined Leonardo in 2019, becoming chief technology and innovation officer and spearheading cyber and AI programs before he was named Italy’s “green transition” minister in 2021 by former Italian prime minister Mario Draghi.

When Draghi’s government fell last year to be replaced at September elections by a coalition led by incoming prime minister Giorgia Meloni, Cingolani was asked stay on as an energy advisor to the new government, a role he has combined with rejoining Leonardo to work on space programs.

Mariani is in charge of the Italian operations of MBDA, the pan-European missile firm in which Leonardo has a stake.

Italian press reports have suggested Cingolani is Meloni’s pick, while Mariani is favored by Italy’s defense minister Guido Crosetto, who formerly ran Italy’s aerospace and defense industry association AIAD.

“Crosetto wants someone who already has a key role in the industry, and that probably means Mariani, while Cingolani is the only person from the Draghi administration to be given a role in the new government, which means Meloni respects him,” said a political source who declined to benamed.

“Mariani has the more industrial profile, while Cingolani has vision, but has never run a company in the sector,” he added.

A financial analyst covering the sector said Mariani would be viewed as a positive appointment by investors. “MBDA is a success story, one of the best joint ventures in Europe with good margins and strong track record,” said the analyst, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Another strong candidate would be Gian Piero Cutillo, Leonardo’s former CFO who now runs the firm’s busy helicopter line, the analyst said.

“He knows the company inside out and has proved effective on the operational side,” said the analyst.

The appointment of a new Leonardo CEO will be made alongside appointments of new heads for three other key state controlled firms: energy firms ENI and ENEL and the Italian post office.

The political source said tradeoffs and compromises between decision makers within the government coalition, as talks proceed on finding candidates to run all the firms, could affect who gets picked for Leonardo.

That means surprises could be in store, he added.

“There is an Italian saying: Whoever enters a papal conclave expected to become pope will exit as a cardinal,” he said.

One outside candidate could be the biggest insider of them all, Profumo himself, if the Meloni government fails to find agreement on the other candidates.

The current CEO could yet be handed a third mandate thanks to positive 2022 results announced on March 9, which saw the firm’s new orders rise 21% year on year to 17.266 billion euros ($18.4bn), beating its forecast of 16 billion euros ($17bn).

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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