Spotlight On: Arnaud Lagardère, chairman designate EADS


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The Independent Online

Arnaud Lagardère – must be related to Christine, of the International Monetary Fund, right?

Wrong. We’re talking today about Arnaud Lagardère - no relation to Christine Lagarde, the sophisticated superbrain who’s set the beeb’s Robert Peston’s heart aflutter.

But they’ve both got similar genes, no?

If you’re referring to the fact that they’re both attractive and French, then yes. But Arnaud uses his charms in a far more frivolous, and far less appealing way than Christine. He’s the playboy scion of the Lagardère weopons, media and aerospace empire – one of France’s, and Europe’s biggest and most important companies. He inherited a big chunk of the firm from his father Jean Luc Lagardère.

Playboy’s an overused term – is it really suitable here?

Well, in the past, he took a hammering from The Economist for playing hooky from board meetings. The magazine headlined its article about his love of pretty women and, er … relaxed approach to his business obligations “Bad heir day”. Shareholders have not been overly happy. At the company’s AGM last week, the 51-year-old proudly announced to grumpy shareholders, who have seen their company lose hundreds of millions of euros, that he’d got his 21-year-old model girlfriend Jade Foret pregnant. It was, he said, “true happiness”. Last year, he was filmed cavorting ridiculously with her. Check it out on YouTube.

Hmm. Powerful French men cavorting with beautiful women. Is that news?

It’s a fair point. Francois Pinault of the PPR conglomerate, currently married to actress Salma Hayek, just settled alimony payments with his ex, Linda Evangelista, and Nicolas Sarkozy, of course, is no slouch when it comes to charming the opposite sex. But Lagardère’s behaviour has really angered investors.

Who cares what stuffy old shareholders say?

Perhaps we all should. Our Arnaud is about to take on the role of chairman of EADS, the parent company of Airbus, which employs thousands of British workers. Many observers of the big business scene are less than happy. The EADS union is “worried” about his lack of professionalism while EADS expert and author Leslie Varenne reportedly described his appointment as “grotesque”. Realistically, EADS investors reckon he’ll not have any real power. But that means chief executive Thomas Enders will have no serious chairman keeping him in check. Time to grow up, Arnaud.