- By Region
EADS, the European aerospace group that includes Airbus, passed the torch to a new top management team at its shareholders’ meeting onThursday in Amsterdam but the company’s new chairman missed the hand over.
Arnaud Lagardère, the French media scion who succeeds Bodo Uebber as chairman of EADS’s board of directors, unexpectedly did not attend the meeting. Mr Uebber told shareholders that Mr Lagardère had begged off appearing on Wednesday, saying he had “other things to attend to”.
Mr Lagardère’s absence fuelled concerns that he is too focused on his family media concern Lagardère, which has suffered a series of setbacks recently, to devote attention to EADS. Lagardère owns 7.5 per cent of EADS but Mr Lagardère has long said he intends ultimately to sell that share.
The no-show partly upstaged the succession of Thomas Enders as EADS chief executive, replacing Louis Gallois. Mr Enders, a former German paratrooper, has served as chief executive at Airbus since 2007 and guided the company to some of its best results to date last year.
Shareholders warmly welcomed Mr Enders’ appointment as chief executive, more than 99 per cent voting to approve him. In contrast, 11.6 per cent voted against the absent Mr Lagardère’s appointment as chairman.
“I think it shows contempt towards the shareholders,” said Viviane Neiter, a French professor of corporate governance who attended the meeting as a private shareholder. “I’m not saying he won’t be effective as a board member but it’s a lack of respect.”
The appointments of Mr Enders and Mr Lagardère will help maintain the delicate balance between French and German influence at EADS. The French and German governments each maintain a 15 per cent stake in the company, with the additional 7.5 per cent shares of Lagardère and of Germany’s Daimler mirroring each other, and the group has twin headquarters in Paris and Munich.
Airbus maintains a similar balance, with its main factories in Toulouse but its headquarters in Hamburg. Mr Enders has said he intends to concentrate operations in Toulouse to improve efficiency, a move which led the German government to clumsily demand more influence at the company in March.
EADS has emphatically rejected such political interference and says it ultimately wants to reduce the French and German government shares of its equity.
Going forward, Mr Gallois said the greatest unpredictability at EADS would come from the A350 widebody jet, which is entering its critical final stage of development and production.
But some shareholders seemed to think Mr Lagardère might be an even more unpredictable factor. Jean-Pierre Belhoste de Soulanges, who attended the meeting on behalf of the French shareholders’ association APAI, said he thought the absence was calculated.
“[Mr Largadere’s] specialty is communications. If he had come, nobody would be talking about him. By not coming, he’s made sure everybody is talking about him,” Mr Belhoste said.