Boeing chairman hints it will select external chief executive

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Lew Platt, the chairman of Boeing, has given a strong indication that the US aerospace and defence giant will select its new chief executive from outside the company.

Lew Platt, the chairman of Boeing, has given a strong indication that the US aerospace and defence giant will select its new chief executive from outside the company.

This would come as a blow to the two internal candidates - Alan Mulally, the head of Boeing's commercial aircraft division, and Jim Albaugh, head of its defence business - both of whom are highly regarded and had strong claims to the top job.

Mr Platt disclosed that he had already offered the chief executive's post to one external candidate who had turned him down for personal reasons. This is thought to be James McNerney, who left General Electric to become chief executive of 3M after losing out in the contest to replace the legendary Jack Welch. He is not thought to have been happy about uprooting his family to move to Chicago, where Boeing now has its headquarters.

The shortlist of potential candidates has been narrowed down to five or six, with Mr Mulally and Mr Albaugh pitted against up to four executives from outside Boeing, one of whom is rumoured to be David Calhoun, the head of GE's aircraft engine division.

Mr Platt said there was a danger that if the job went to either Mr Mulally or Mr Albaugh, then the unsuccessful candidate would leave Boeing. There is a possibility that by selecting a chief executive from outside both men could quit Boeing, but Mr Platt said if that was the route the company chose he believed both men could be persuaded to stay.

One of the first questions being asked of those being interviewed about the job from outside the company is how they would deal with the fallout from Mr Mulally and Mr Albaugh being passed over.

Boeing's previous chief executive, Harry Stonecipher, was forced out for having an affair with a senior colleague and his predecessor, Phil Condit, quit after an earlier ethics scandal involving the hiring of a former Pentagon procurement official. Mr Platt said he had been concerned this would deter candidates from coming forward from outside the company but this had not proved the case.

Meanwhile, Mike Turner, the chief executive of BAE Systems, warned that the vacuum at the top of Airbus could pose serious problems unless it named a successor to Noel Forgeard quickly. M. Forgeard is due to become joint chief executive of the majority Airbus shareholder EADS but a spat involving the French government and EADS' German shareholders has thrown the management succession at both companies into chaos.

BAE has a veto over the Airbus appointment because of its 20 per cent stake in the European aircraft manufacturer. Mr Turner said he was "concerned but not surprised" over the row, adding: "We can survive a week or two without a new chief executive but I would not like to see it go beyond that." Gustav Humbert, Airbus's chief operating officer, has been lined up to take the chief executive's job but has not been formally appointed.

Separately, Airbus offered to surrender its right to refundable launch aid yesterday provided Boeing gave up all forms of government aid as well.

But the proposal, a fresh attempt to avert a hugely damaging trade dispute between Europe and the United States, was immediately rejected by Boeing, which said Airbus would have to agree to end launch aid as a pre-condition for the two sides sitting down to talk.

Speaking at the Paris Airshow, M. Forgeard said the reason it had decided to postpone the launch of the new A350 aircraft until September was to try to facilitate a deal between the US and EU before the World Trade Organisation rules on the dispute, potentially triggering punitive sanctions by both sides.

Airbus has applied for €1.6bn of launch aid from the British, French, German and Spanish governments towards the €4.35bn cost of developing the A350 - a competitor to the new Boeing 787.

M. Forgeard said Airbus would not give up its right to refundable launch aid automatically but could be persuaded to do so if Boeing agreed to end all forms of non-refundable aid.