On the move: Christian Streiff

Aircraft maker Airbus has hit serious turbulence recently: can the new CEO restore its equilibrium?

by Jim Curtis, World Business
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Europe's aerospace industry has prospered thanks to Airbus Industrie, but its smooth climb was interrupted over the summer. Accusations of insider trading at European Aeronautic, Defence & Space (EADS), Airbus' parent company, forced EADS co-CEO Noel Forgeard to quit in July.

Forgeard is being investigated after selling shares in EADS before it became known that the Airbus A380 superjumbo was facing a long delay - a revelation that caused a 26% slump in Airbus shares. The delay, which has cost the company EUR2 billion, also prompted Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert to resign.

Christian Streiff, 51, his appointment announced in July, is a surprise replacement for Humbert. The former deputy CEO of building materials group Saint-Gobain, France's oldest industrial company, was once an enthusiastic amateur pilot, but his aeronautical expertise ends there.

However, Streiff does offer cross-border management experience. Fluent in French, English, German and Italian, he has managed different units of Saint-Gobain around Europe and the US, and is used to diplomatic dealings with a wide variety of industrial suppliers.

Critics may have wondered why EADS and Airbus didn't have a strong internal candidate, but both companies are highly politicised and arguments between their primarily French and German owners over which country's interests should hold sway dominated the leadership succession debate.

In the event, Streiff looks well placed to avoid strife. He was backed by the French finance minister Thierry Breton, but is also well-known in Germany, having spent 15 years there with Saint-Gobain. Unlike his predecessor Humbert, who reported to Forgeard, Streiff will report to Tom Enders, the German co-CEO of EADS.

This balancing act has distracted Airbus just as it needs to fight a resurgent Boeing. The two companies have starkly different visions of the aerospace future, with Airbus taking a high-risk punt on the hub-to-hub superjumbo and Boeing backing a lightweight long-range midsize jet, the 787 Dreamliner. Strong advance sales for Dreamliner and Airbus' problems selling its competitor, the A350, have put Boeing in the stronger position.

Streiff recently described his first weeks in charge as "a kind of vertical take-off with full thrust". His first move was to address concerns about the A350, announcing a $10 billion programme to build an all-new A350 XWB. It's an expensive risk, not least as it won't be ready until four years after Dreamliner. Next, he has to decide what to do about the embarrassing delay to the A380. Fasten seatbelts for more turbulent times ahead.

CV AT A GLANCE ...
EDUCATION
1977: Graduates from France's elite engineering school, Ecole des Mines
de Paris
CAREER
1979: Joins Saint-Gobain Group, working in Germany at Halbergerhutte
(pipe division) and Vetrotex Deutschland (reinforcements)
1988: General manager, Gevetex, Saint-Gobain's German glass subsidiary
1991: General manager, Vetrerie Italiane, Saint-Gobain's Italian
containers subsidiary 1994 CEO, Saint-Gobain Emballage
1997: President, Halbergerhutte; CEO, Pont-a-Mousson SA (now
Saint-Gobain PAM)
2001: President, Saint-Gobain's US-based abrasives, ceramics and
plastics division 2003 COO, Saint-Gobain Group
2006: President and CEO, Airbus Industrie

IN COMPARISON ... JAMES MCNERNEY, CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BOEING

Appointed in June 2005, James McNerney moved from the top job at the $20 billion global technology company 3M to take control of the world's largest aerospace company. McNerney had long been a target of Boeing and had twice previously rebuffed its approaches.

As one of America's top-rated executives, McNerney cut his teeth at General Electric, rising under the company's CEO Jack Welch. McNerney was appointed to Boeing over internal candidates, but his stint at GE's aircraft engine division and existing role as a Boeing board member ensured he came to the role well prepared.

Like Streiff, McNerney took control at a difficult time. He was Boeing's third CEO in three years: a previous CEO, Phil Condit, resigned after the firm was rocked by a series of business ethics scandals, which resulted in its former chief financial officer going to prison.

McNerney's first year has been made easier by Boeing's strong order books in both its core businesses - commercial airliners and military - and the knowledge that the US giant is regaining airspace from its increasingly embattled European rival. Boeing has received 360 firm orders from 26 airlines for the 787 Dreamliner, making it the company's fastest-ever selling aircraft.

CV AT A GLANCE ...
1975: Joins Procter & Gamble
1978: Joins McKinsey & Co
1982: Joins General Electric, rising to president and CEO, GE Aircraft
Engines and GE Lighting; president, GE Asia Pacific; president and CEO,
GE Electrical, Distribution and Control 2001 CEO of 3M
2005: Chairman, president and CEO, Boeing.

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