Olver the front runner for BAE chair

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The Independent Online

BAE Systems, the defence and engineering business, is understood to be close to signing up Dick Olver, the deputy chief executive at BP, as its new chairman.

BAE Systems, the defence and engineering business, is understood to be close to signing up Dick Olver, the deputy chief executive at BP, as its new chairman.

An appointment would end a long-running and high-profile search for a replacement for Sir Dick Evans, the BAE veteran and its chairman for the past six years. He is due to step down in the spring and the company has been looking for a chairman since last summer with the help of the headhunter Spencer Stuart. A number of names have been mentioned in connection with the job, including Richard Lapthorne at Cable & Wireless and Vanni Treves, the former chairman of Channel 4 and the head of the board at the embattled Equitable Life. Mr Lapthorne knows the company well, being a former finance director of BAE, but is thought to be committed to turning around Cable & Wireless.

Sir John Parker, the chairman of National Grid Transco, has also previously been tipped for the BAE chairmanship. His appointment, however, would have breached the new code of corporate governance, which is against individuals chairing more than one FTSE company. He may yet join the board as a non-executive director.

BAE's search for a chairman is thought to have been difficult as few people with the right experience are willing to take on the controversial job as the public face of an arms manufacturer. The recruitment process has been further complicated by BAE's attempts to merge with a US contractor. These ambitions were abandoned, however, at the end of last year when the company decided to focus on restoring its own profitability first.

A company spokesman said yesterday the hunt for a chairman was "going well" and that the board was "nearing the end of the process" and was now in talks with one individual.

Mr Olver, who has worked for BP since 1973, is a chartered engineer whose previous roles at the oil giant have included chief executive of the exploration and production operations and a head of strategy. This track record in oil exploration at BP gives him the project management skills that would be attractive to BAE, which is trying to turn around its complex business.

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