PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - Airbus has hired the boss of Rolls-Royce’s civil engines division, Eric Schulz, to replace John Leahy as head of commercial aircraft sales, following months of uncertainty over who would replace the veteran dealmaker.
Schulz, president of Rolls Royce’s civil aerospace unit since January 2016, will join Europe’s largest planemaker at a time when it is struggling to continue Leahy’s legacy of record jetliner sales amid a rebound by arch-rival Boeing.
The 54-year-old French engineer will report to Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders and join in January. Reuters reported on Sunday the Airbus board had been asked to approve a recommendation to back Schulz.
Shares in Rolls-Royce, where Schulz has been part of a relatively new management team that has pulled the company out of a series of profit warnings, fell about 1 percent.
Airbus stock rose 0.5 percent as the appointment cleared up uncertainty over who would fill the shoes of 67-year-old Leahy, whose retirement had been postponed for several months.
The top sales post at Airbus is seen as the keystone of European competition against Boeing in the $100 billion a year jet market, a top export earner on both sides of the Atlantic.
Enders paid tribute to Leahy as a “living legend” who had overseen the sale of more than 16,000 jets and propelled Airbus from underdog to the industry’s top rung.
Schulz began his career at one of Airbus’s founders, France’s former state-owned Aerospatiale, before working at aerospace supplier Goodrich via a stint at two French airlines: UTA and Air Liberte.
“This combination of skills and experience makes Eric the right pick to succeed John Leahy at a critical juncture of our company’s development,” Enders said in a statement.
Rolls-Royce said Schulz would stay on until the end of the year but would not be involved in commercial negotiations during that period, a move designed to avoid upsetting Boeing since engine makers can play a role in swinging aircraft deals.
At the British firm, Schulz oversaw a ramp-up in the production and the development of its next generation of civil aerospace engines. But his division has also suffered maintenance problems with engines already flying, particularly the Trent 1000 which powers the Boeing Dreamliner.
Although Leahy signed off with a record deal at the Dubai Airshow this month, Schulz will inherit a Toulouse sales organization unsettled by other defeats and seeking stability amid UK and French corruption probes into commercial jet sales.
Insiders say morale has been badly hit by the probes, which center on a now defunct Paris-based unit of Airbus headquarters.
Airbus said Leahy would remain with the company for a short transition. Industry sources expect him to retire about Jan. 25.
Leahy, meanwhile, aims to complete a preliminary 430-jet deal with Indigo Partners announced in Dubai, battling to end a 23-year stint as sales boss on a par with Boeing after a year in which Boeing has held a firm lead, especially on large jets.
“I have never seen John give up on anything,” Enders said.
Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter