Outlook: BAe tries out its own man in the pilot's seat

BRITISH Aerospace has had an odd collection of chairmen down the years. The present incumbent, Bob Bauman, has been pretty much faceless since he cashed in his SmithKline options four years ago to take on the non-executive, part-time post. BAe says Mr Bauman has proved an invaluable "coach" to the team of executive directors. If so his best work has been done from the stands, not the dugout.

Mr Bauman's predecessor was John Cahill, who arrived from BTR thinking that building Tornado jets was just like bagging rubber seals as they drop off the conveyor belt. His attempts to BTR-ise BAe quickly ran into the sand.

Before that BAe had Sir Graham Day as caretaker chairman. He was called in to clean up the mess left by his predecessor Sir Roland Smith. Enough said. Prior to that the chairman's shoes were filled by Sir Austin Pearce, a former Esso man who was more at home with the stuff that goes in a Tornado's fuel tank than the payload it carries under its wings. Before that it was the urbane Lord Beswick and before him BAe did not exist.

Now BAe has decided to change tack and give one of the professionals a spin in the pilot's seat. Sir Dick Evans, who takes up the chairman's post in May, is the super salesman who earned BAe its bread and butter income for the next 20 years by stitching up the Al Yamamah arms-for oil deal. Since he took over as chief executive in 1990 most of his time has been spent trying to keep a variety of chairman in check. Now that he gets to play with the controls all by himself in the role of executive chairman, the non-execs, led by the former cable guy Sir Robin Biggam, will need to be in tip-top form to keep Sir Dick in check.

He may know about the business end of a Eurofighter better than most, but Sir Dick's skills as a strategist are untested and so far the grand prize of a merger with GEC has slipped through his fingers.

From now on he can expect to spend most of his time trying to put together BAe's great Euro defence consolidation with Aerospatiale of France and Germany's Daimler.

Refuelling Harrier jump jets might be a more rewarding task than having to grapple with the perfidious French. Never mind, if Sir Dick gets frustrated he can go back to counting his options and bonus shares which, at the last count, were showing a pounds 1.8m profit.