Eric Schulz won’t try to match legendary retired Airbus sales executive John Leahy in charisma, but he also says it’s the planes, not his predecessor’s bonhomie, that put Airbus where it is today.
Airbus customers will be courted with a different kind of sales pitch now that hard-charging marketing supremo John Leahy has handed over the reins, his successor Eric Schulz said in an interview.
Leahy accumulated more than 16,000 jet orders worth $1.7 trillion during his two decades as head salesman, many of them secured in air-show tussles with Boeing that saw deals sealed over a stiff drink in the wee hours. Schulz said he doesn’t claim to have the same charisma as the American but will bring an intimate knowledge of the airline business.
“I would not try to be John,” Frenchman Schulz said at the Singapore Airshow, where he made his debut as sales chief. “The way we approach the customer may differ; I am probably a bit more analytic about airline operations, but in the end everyone has their style.”
Career: Began in 1985 at Aerospatiale/Airbus, before joining UTA French Airlines/Air France. Was president of Rolls-Royce’s main civil aerospace unit for about six years until Airbus recruited him in November.
Background: A native of France, grew up in France and Italy. He holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Ecole d’Ingenieurs of Geneva, and one in aeronautical engineering from ESTAE Paris.
Source: Bloomberg, Airbus
Under Leahy, who retired at the age of 67, Airbus’ share of the civil jetliner market has surged from just 5 percent to about half of the global order book, putting the European planemaker on a level footing with Boeing. Both companies have racked up record backlogs, fueled by the launch of more efficient models and a surge in deals from Asia and the Middle East.
Schulz, 55, spent much of his early career at French airlines including flag carrier Air France and later the Air Liberté division of British Airways. He joined U.K. jet-engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings in 2010, rising to become president of the main civil aerospace business.
“I don’t think any customer has ever bought any airplane from Airbus because they had a drink with Leahy,” Schulz said. “They bought an airplane from Airbus because the product was to their expectations, and then John had a fantastic charisma and was able to create the conditions which got the customer feeling good.”
Still, airlines have become less forgiving about performance standards as schedules tighten and the amount of time each jet spends in the air increases to hitherto unknown levels.
That’s forcing Airbus to be quicker in addressing production hurdles, Schulz said. The Toulouse-based company has suffered a series of missteps with recent planes, ranging from delays to the A350 widebody, stemming from seat glitches, through engine issues afflicting its upgraded A320neo and A330neo models.
“I am going to be very strict with that,” Schulz said. “The best way to sell an airplane is to deliver on the existing fleet. It’s the same when you buy a car. If I am a car dealer, I can talk to you about your next car. But if your actual car for whatever reason doesn’t deliver to the level of your requirements, you’re not even going to consider looking.”
Schulz takes over at a turbulent time for Airbus’ sales operation, which has been roiled by a series of probes into corruption and bribery. The executive navigated similar upheaval at Rolls-Royce, helping the company avoid charges and reach a settlement of $797 million.
“We can’t be flexible on compliance because the world has changed and whatever was tolerated or assumed before is no longer the case,” Schulz said.
The planemaker is also facing growing pressure from countries that buy the bulk of its aircraft to shift some manufacturing onto their shores. China, the U.S. and other countries are clamoring for a bigger share of production reflecting the size of their markets — an idea Airbus has hinted it might accept.
The new sales chief had a relatively quiet introduction to the fray in Singapore; both Airbus and Boeing drew order blanks at the Asian event after piling on deals at last year’s Paris and Dubai expos.