PARIS — The head of Airbus will leave the European aircraft manufacturer in February, while the chief executive of the parent company will not seek a renewal when his contract ends in 2019, Airbus said Friday.
“The board of directors of Airbus SE (stock exchange symbol: AIR) has decided on a series of executive changes that ensure an orderly succession in the executive leadership of Airbus,” the company said in a statement.
Chief Operating Officer Fabrice Bregier will leave Airbus’ commercial aircraft division in February, with the head of Airbus Helicopters, Guillaume Faury, taking up the post, the company said.
Bregier was the No. 2 at Airbus, and his departure signals the end of a bitter struggle with Enders, business daily Les Echos reported. The two top executives struggled over how to tackle corporate governance as British and French authorities investigated alleged bribery.
Airbus CEO Tom Ender told the board of directors he would not seek a fresh mandate after his present contract, which runs to April 2019.
“We need fresh minds for the 2020s,” Enders said. “In the coming 16 months, I will work with the board to ensure a smooth transition to the next CEO and a new generation of leaders.”
Enders will keep a close eye on business ethics in his remaining time at Airbus.
“I will focus on our business challenges; and I will further progress and strengthen our ethics and compliance programs,” he said.
Bregier noted his lengthy service and his years at the Airbus missile and helicopter units.
“After 25 years with the company including five years as MBDA CEO, four years as CEO of Eurocopter and 11 years as COO, CEO or president of Airbus commercial aircraft, I feel the time is right to pursue other opportunities outside,” Bregier said.
The imminent departure of Bregier and announced exit of Enders signal difficult times at Airbus, an analyst said.
“Leahy’s departure, now Enders and Bregier — it’s not healthy for the company,” said Sash Tusa, an analyst with equity research firm Agency Partners. “The big question is: Who will be Ender’s successor?”
John Leahy, Airbus’ top salesman, leaves the company next year as he hits retirement age.
The Airbus board will consider internal and external candidates for the next CEO of Airbus Group, an appointment intended to assure corporate stability, the company said.
“The board of directors is responsible for ensuring orderly succession planning and the continuous development of the executive pipeline,” said Denis Ranque, Airbus chairman.
“We are confident we have taken the right decisions to ensure Airbus’ long-term stability and future success, and we fully support Tom Enders to lead Airbus through this generational handover with our full support,” he added.
The British Serious Fraud Office opened an inquiry in 2016 after Airbus contacted the U.K. authorities and passed on its concerns on corporate payments made to sales agents. The French Parquet National Financier fraud office joined that British probe.
The French government is keeping a close eye on the investigations, website La Tribune reported. Bruno Le Maire, France’s economy and finance minister, told La Tribune he had been “briefed” on the allegations when he took up office at the ministry.
“I immediately asked the chairman of the board of Airbus to see me so I could ask him to deliver full transparency on the allegations, to give explanation, to give a full explanation to the French state, and beyond those explanations to present a battle plan on how it will put some order into the company,” he said.
France is a shareholder in Airbus but no longer has a seat on the board.
Airbus called in the British authorities once an internal review ordered by Enders in 2015 revealed information on payments made to middlemen on foreign sales of airliners, Les Echos reported. Under the recent French anti-corruption law Sapin II, a company may avoid a criminal prosecution if executives can show preventive measures were taken and reported the concern to the authorities. The Anglo-French inquiry is expected to last years.
In a surprise announcement, Delta Air Lines said Thursday the company will order 100 Airbus A321neo airliners, with an option for 100 more. Boeing had been seen as the preferred bidder with its 737 Max 10, an analyst said.