Turbulence in highest ranks: Airbus CFO follows CEO exit in 2019

On May 14, 2018, Airbus announced that its Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Harald Wilhelm has decided to leave the company in 2019. The long-standing finance chief is following the footsteps of Airbus Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tom Enders. Will this create a vacuum in the top ranks of the European plane maker’s management?

Announcing his departure, Wilhelm stated: “After 18 years at the Airbus finance function, next year will be the right time for me to move on. Until then, I remain committed to the performance of the company and I will work with the management to ensure a smooth transition to the next Airbus CFO.

Wilhelm held the role of CFO of Airbus Commercial Aircraft since February 1, 2008, and was the CFO of Airbus since June 1, 2012, as well as being a member of the Group Executive Committee.

Harald is an extraordinary CFO with an extraordinary finance team, second to none in the industry,” CEO Tom Enders commented, adding that, “I commend Harald for his outstanding contribution to the Company and I would like to also thank him for his willingness to stay on board until my own retirement in spring next year.

And this is the issue. A few months ago, Enders announced he will seek no further mandate beyond April 2019. Airbus Chief Operating Officer (COO), strategy chief and head of sales already left the company, Bloomberg observes.

In February 2018, COO and President of Airbus Commercial Aircraft Fabrice Brégier stepped down reportedly due to an internal power struggle. Both the group’s sales chief John Leahy, who had spearheaded the company’s sales campaigns for decades and was dubbed as “Mr. Airbus”, as well as Head of Engineering Charles Champion also recently retired.

And there are more of such announcements expected in the coming months – by COO of Airbus Commercial Aircraft Division, Tom Williams, and Didier Evrard, Head of Programs at the same unit. As The Financial Times notes, with the latest departure, more than half of Airbus executive team is going to be  renewed since 2017. It certainly seems that the veterans are ready to go.

Coming back to the case of Wilhelm, according to the official press release by Airbus, his departure was “in agreement with the Board of Directors”. And while speculation continues over CEO Enders’ successor, Denis Ranque, the Chairman of the Airbus Board of Directors, says the company will now begin the search for his successor and that announcement will be made “in due time.”

But the question is, who else will be able to one up a person with such a thorough understanding of the manufacturing giant’s various businesses and operations? Before rising to the highest positions, Wilhelm was the Chief Controlling Officer (CCO) of Airbus Commercial Aircraft and deputy to the CFO, a position to which he was appointed on January 1, 2007.

Prior to this, he was Senior Vice President, Airbus Commercial Aircraft Financial Control, a role he held from 2003 to 2006. Wilhelm joined Airbus Commercial Aircraft in 2000 as Senior Vice President, Accounting, Tax and Financial Services. All in all, the well-respected company executive served Airbus and its predecessor companies for 27 years in various finance roles.

Source – AeroTime