* Move represents EADS victory after Lauvergeon bid slips
* Board shake-up completes governance overhaul post-BAE
* Ranque resisted EADS takeover attempts while Thales CEO
* 61-year-old Frenchman in middle of Atlantic sail trip
By Tim Hepher
PARIS, Feb 5 European aerospace group EADS
was putting finishing touches on Tuesday to a board
shake-up which is likely to see former Thales boss Denis Ranque
emerge as the company's first independent chairman, people
familiar with the matter said.
The 61-year-old former French defence boss is expected to
feature on a list of independent board nominees, putting him in
pole position to be elected chairman following a shareholders'
meeting expected at the end of March or in early April.
EADS declined to comment.
The decision marks a victory for the Airbus parent group's
chief executive, Tom Enders, after a tug of war with the French
government, which had supported a bid by former nuclear industry
executive Anne Lauvergeon to head the EADS board.
The board's composition is seen as a crucial test of the
company's independence following a deal to unpick a shareholder
pact dominated by the French and German governments and their
proxy shareholders, Lagardere and Daimler.
French ministerial support for Lauvergeon had raised
concerns in the aerospace industry that EADS management would
struggle to be seen as free of political pressures despite
breaking up a decade of control by the French and German
Former Areva chief executive Lauvergeon has been designated
to represent French state interests on the EADS board alongside
former European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet.
France and Germany can approve two representatives each on
the 12-person board, but analysts say it is symbolically
important for EADS to demonstrate political freedom under the
new set-up by picking a chairman from the independent majority.
"Anne Lauvergeon has been confirmed as a board member. The
important thing is that the chairman will be French," a
government source said, asking not to be identified.
EADS shareholders will be asked to adopt three resolutions
setting in place the new governance regime that includes a 15
percent voting cap, as well as board nominations and a buyback
of up to 15 percent of stock to help Lagardere exit the group.
Daimler, which co-founded EADS with Lagardere and the French
government in 2000, has already sold part of its stake.
BACK FROM THE WILDERNESS
Ranque's appointment would mark a return literally from the
wilderness to the top of Europe's defence industry following his
dramatic ousting as head of Thales, Europe's largest defence
electronics company in 2009, a year before his mandate expired.
In 2011 he gave up a handful of other board positions and
set off on a tour of the Atlantic to indulge his passion for
sailing -- an expedition from which he has yet to return.
His return to prominence underscores the tight-knit nature
of France's defence industry after the lanky, bespectacled
engineer repelled at least two informal attempts by EADS to take
over Thales in the middle of the past decade.
Ranque fought hard against the idea on the grounds that
Thales would be forced to sell its own aerospace business that
supplies Boeing, and embarked instead on a fruitless
quest to buy engine maker Snecma, now called Safran.
Under Ranque, state-controlled Thales transformed itself
from a scandal-ridden behemoth reliant on arms sales to the
Middle East into an internationally focused developer of
technologies from spy satellites to cockpits and train signals.
However some analysts blamed this expansion for piling up
loss-making contracts in places like Turkey. He also left behind
losses on the A400M, the much-delayed Airbus military
transporter plane for which he would now assume ultimate control
as EADS chairman.
Ranque's first task would be to oversee a new strategy after
the failure to acquire BAE Systems interrupted efforts
to bring EADS defence sales up to the level of Airbus sales.
However his arrival is not expected to trigger a new march
on Thales, whose fate is now tied to its main
industrial shareholder, Dassault Aviation.