PARIS Airbus (AIR.PA) sales chief John Leahy, one of the dominant figures of modern aviation, hinted on Thursday he would retire this autumn, as he wrapped up what he said would be his last air show by revealing a few precious negotiating tricks.
The 67-year-old New Yorker, who has overseen the sale of more than 10,000 aircraft worth $1 trillion since 1994, has said he plans to retire by end-year. But he went a step further on Thursday as he ruled out going to the Dubai Airshow in November.
He pledged to ensure a smooth transition to his designated internal successor, Kiran Rao.
“We want to have a smooth transition with Kiran and the team. We don’t want people sitting around the canteen trying to figure out ‘what does this mean for me’?”
After suffering a rare air show defeat at the hands of Boeing in brutal heat at the Paris Airshow this week, Leahy talked about the pros and cons of a stage he has made his own.
It turns out the man who has reigned supreme over air shows for more than 20 years was never particularly fond of them.
“After I retire I will not come back to an air show. I don’t see any reason to do that. Air shows are hot and sometimes very wet, they can be cold and windy, they are crowded, you never have enough time for people,” he said.
“The only useful thing about an air show is that it is a deadline, a point in time. You talk to people when negotiations have been going on for months…and you say ‘this is my best and final (offer); it can be announced at the air show and we have got a deal,’ and they say ‘no I want more’,” he said.
“Then you have to say ‘if you didn’t get it from me during the air show, what makes you think you are going to get it from me the week after it?’ So it becomes a deadline: that is about the only use I see in air shows.”
Most often, the recipe seems to work.
Insiders say talks can and often do drag through the night, with barely time to change before a morning press conference, such as a $14 billion deal with Wizz Air over ordered-in pizza that stole the last Paris Airshow from Boeing in 2015.
Now, Boeing is on the offensive and won this year’s biennial event, thanks to the launch of a new model and the apparently deliberate spacing of air show announcements to keep up a drumbeat that put Airbus under pressure from day one.
Industry watchers said those techniques are directly out of the Leahy playbook, but this time they worked for his rival.
Asked whether he thought Boeing had borrowed his air show strategy, he said, “Yes, very much so.”
But asked earlier if Airbus had lost momentum, Leahy said orders had been expected to be lower this year.
Boeing’s recently appointed sales chief Ihssane Mounir paid tribute to the man he had just out-competed for air show orders.
“I have nothing but respect for John Leahy. He is an icon in the industry and has been instrumental in the success Airbus has had over the years,” Mounir told Reuters.
Although silver-tongued in public and always ready to snap into salesman mode, Leahy is surprisingly reluctant to talk about himself, but retains a lightning return of serve.
Asked to describe his greatest achievement, he countered, “Keeping my cool with reporters”.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Adrian Croft)
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