You began your career as a journalist working in the fields of defence and foreign service. As a journalist, you were also a special envoy during the Gulf War. What would you say are the key lessons you took with you from your time as a journalist into your current role?
Being a journalist is about learning availability and flexibility, something you should never forget when you deal with journalists as a communications person. News cannot wait, and you have to feed them without delay. The other lesson is that each journalist deserves attention, whatever the publication, and can become a friend and an ally if you pay attention to her or him. There are no second-class journalists – all of them share some importance in the global media game.
After your stint as a journalist, you took up the role as a communications consultant to the French Minister of Defence. Again, could you tell us about your special duties then, and how this prepared you for a role in corporate communications in the aerospace industry?
In this second part of my career, I learnt a lot about secrecy and classified information. But I also learnt that, even when you are not allowed to disclose the truth, neither can you lie to a journalist, never ever. Otherwise you lose your credibility. The same applies to political people such as ministers: when you are their advisor, you have always to tell them not to.
You joined EADS in 2008; almost four years later, what are the main challenges of your job?
I actually joined Aerospatiale in 1998, to prepare a first merger with Matra and create Aerospatiale Matra. One year later, I had to prepare a second merger, between Aerospatiale Matra, DASA and CASA, to create EADS. And eventually after 2000, I was sent to Matra Bae Dynamics, the Franco-British joint venture on missiles, to prepare a third merger, this time with the Italians of Alenia Marconi Systems, and to create MBDA (the missile developer and manufacturer). So by the time I went back to EADS in 2008, I was already familiar with the main challenge of these mergers, which was the multi-cultural and multinational integration.
Could you tell us more about the challenges of communicating for and within a multinational company?
Traditionally, what is generally understood as a multinational company is one that follows a single standard (usually the American one) be it in the language or the management culture. It is definitely easier to follow a common standard but it can also generate frustrations between Anglo-Saxon employees and those whose mother-tongue is not English. The really new thing we experienced at EADS was that, beyond having English as a single working language, it was decided to set up a mix of best practises for all our national management cultures without one dominating the others. EADS’ culture is sort of a mix of German organisation, French initiative, British pragmatism and Spanish enthusiasm, and after 11 years now, one can say we achieved a remarkable and original set-up.
How would you describe your role and responsibilities in EADS’ governmental relations?
In the present structure of EADS, government relations - or public affairs as we call it - are not managed by communications: they are structured on a national basis, with one public affairs officer in Germany, France, Spain and the UK, with a reporting line to the top management and an informal network between them all. The reality is that each government has to be addressed separately, not only because there are different national situations but also because we want to be considered as a fully-national player in each of our mother countries: EADS is French in Paris, British in London, German in Berlin and Spanish in Madrid, without any possible doubt.
EADS operates with a highly-specialised workforce. Could you briefly describe the kind of employer branding – if any – undertaken by EADS?
EADS is a powerful company formed by four major brands, which are Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Eurocopter, plus a number of smaller entities and joint ventures like Aerolia, Premium Aerotech, ATR, MBDA, etc. Each one of the strong brands has its own culture and attractions, but we have developed a common identity, what I would call a ‘family name’. Joining EADS is not only joining one of its activities, it also means benefitting from a wide group in terms of range of activities and, sometimes, getting a chance to move across the group from one business to another, through mobility and high-tech jobs.
The issue of Communication Director has a special focus on business to business communications. EADS is a great example, with major contracts secured by governments around the world and dealings with big businesses a central part of your operations. So could you tell us about the kind of communications that are a regular part of your job?
As I just mentioned, EADS has a great variety of activities, and if we are not directly addressing the public – for instance we are not selling cars to individuals, but aircrafts to companies – we have a close link to the public through our products that are part of everyday’s life in terms of transport, security, communications, and so on. Having said that, most of the business-to-business communications are addressed directly by the four main brands, and at corporate level we try not to interfere but rather to guarantee consistency in the global messaging, providing support to joint activities such as exhibitions – our presence at the main shows is managed by the corporate level – or sometimes providing transverse support as in the case of defence activities that concern Cassidian, Astrium, Airbus Military and Eurocopter.
EADS reported losses in 2007 and 2009. You joined EADS as director of press relations in 2008. What communications strategy did EADS adopt during this difficult period? Would you recommend your fellow communicators to do the same, or would you have done it differently, given the chance?
I actually joined at the very moment the group moved from a dual structure (with two Chairmen, two CEOs and a sort of split with parallel structures) into single governance with a single CEO, Louis Gallois. That was in 2007. This move was decided by the shareholders and the French and German governments precisely in order to facilitate a stronger and more consistent management. This addressed a specific situation, which was that the whole company was suffering from too many new programmes being developed simultaneously in difficult conditions. The brief that I was given was to be as transparent as possible and defuse the idea – as fuelled by the Insider Trading investigation, which eventually did not find anything – that the company was hiding problems. The difficulties arose from the fact that, at the same time, we had to address specialists in the press dealing either with aeronautics, or with legal procedures. We had to become specialists ourselves, and we were supported in that by external consultants. I think we did it in the right way as we successfully came out of this difficult period, and I would do almost the same again even though I have learnt that every new crisis is different and has to be managed in a different way.
How has the Eurozone crisis disrupted EADS’s operations and your job?
EADS has been facing a serious problem long before the Eurozone crisis started, and that is the euro/dollar rate. Producing in euros and selling in dollars, as was the case for most of the aircraft contracts until recently, created an unbalanced situation where the euro was constantly over-rated in respect to the US dollar. For that reason the group initiated a series of savings programmes. These programmes have generated synergies and savings that have made the group stronger in the face of the international crisis. Also, the kinds of programmes we are managing are less exposed to wide customer movements than, say, the car industry – we sell planes and helicopters to companies or to governments in series and over long periods, which gives us more flexibility to play between those customers waiting for quicker deliveries and those preferring to delay. Concerning the communications aspect, I have to admit that the savings imposed by group-wide programmes have impacted communications as a “non-productive activity”. We have had to sharply reduce our budgets in advertising and exhibitions, and globally to reduce our budget.
As you mentioned earlier, EADS used to have two chief executives as a way of maintaining the bi-national balance. The appointment of Louis Gallois as sole CEO in 2007 was said to help bring an end to national rivalries within the company. When you joined EADS, how aware were you of a changing organisational culture?
First of all, EADS is in a state of permanent transformation. As we create our own management style, the transition is quite structural. So I knew I would have to face more transformations, even in the communications function. Also, coming from MBDA, I already was rich in multi-cultural experience and was happy to extend it to my new job. When I became head of communications one year later, in 2009, I kept two offices, one in Munich and the second in Paris, and was running a bi-located team formed from French, German, British, Spanish and even one American. And let me also remind you that where EADS had suffered most in the previous years was not so much Franco-German rivalries but maybe Franco-French rivalries, between the CEOs of EADS and Airbus. But this is now a remote memory.
How would you characterise your working relationship with Louis Gallois? What would you say is his attitude to communication?
Louis Gallois has an outstanding experience in communications gained through the different steps of his career. When he was CEO of SNCF, the French railway company, he had great public exposure. So working with him was not a challenge for me in that respect. He also has a personal knowledge of many journalists, which helped create a mutual feeling of trust. This was also of great help to me. Last but not least, he is not the kind of boss who urges you every day to get his photo in the newspapers. On the contrary, he gives you confidence to run the job within general parameters, focusing on the company and not on the individuals, and I think we have managed to develop a pretty good understanding.
Media speculation about a successor to Louis Gallois was rampant before the recent announcement of the appointment of Tom Enders as of next June. To what degree did this kind of speculation and uncertainty hinder or put pressure on your job as a communicator?
There was never any uncertainty about Louis Gallois’ succession as this was agreed between the shareholders and two governments in 2008 when the single governance was set up: a French CEO and a German Chairman were to be succeeded after five years by a German CEO and a French Chairman. Any pressure actually comes from the press speculation fuelled by agencies, dailies and blogs to invent the latest scoop about who would come next. Louis Gallois used to say that the journalists will be disappointed when the appointments are announced, as this is nothing unexpected.
And how do you keep speculation to a minimum in this porous age of social media?
Last year, we discovered the true extent of social media and are currently feeding three twitter accounts at EADS corporate level, and the brands are doing the same at their level, starting with Airbus and Eurocopter. We are also trying to monitor what is being circulated on Facebook by pushing our own pages, so we are progressively getting familiar with all these new tools. Obviously you cannot prevent the press from speculating. But as social media give you direct access to instant information, it has become easier to monitor and defuse wrong information.
Another issue is reduced state influence in EADS. Do you believe that this is desirable, and how do you foresee such a development directly affecting your work?
As a communications person, I have never experienced any State influence in my present job nor, I have to insist, from the two private shareholders, Daimler and Lagardere. I would not comment about public or private shareholders. I could maybe say that if some day we would have a shareholder structure where no shareholder has specific status, maybe this would be easier to explain than the present situation.
EADS is also the largest stakeholder in the consortium behind the Eurofighter combat jet. Are there any special communication challenges regarding consortiums?
The Eurofighter consortium is organised in such a way that every marketing campaign is in charge of a single country, for instance Eurofighter Germany for India or Eurofighter UK for the Gulf area. This makes it easier, as does the fact that the consortium has its own communications level, and the present spokesman Valerio Bonelli is a skilled person and a good friend.
Airbus is a major subsidiary of EADS. How does such a high-profile subsidiary affect your work?
EADS’ corporate communications tries not to interfere with the marketing communications developed by each of its brand. The separation is clear-cut and we closely align our two communications teams to avoid discrepancies, by sharing which lines to take and by redirecting journalists’ calls to the appropriate level. I also would stress that we have greatly progressed in networking and creating synergies. Just two examples: the rebranding we did last year by creating a new graphic chart to give a ‘family’ aspect I was keen to develop has enabled us to grow a common visibility. All Airbus advertisements have a brand bar mentioning that Airbus is an EADS company. And for the same reason we have at corporate level drastically reduced our own advertising. The same goes for exhibitions, where we now have a common set-up between corporate and the four brands – corporate manages the big international shows, and the brands are delegated to build and prepare the stands for smaller exhibitions.
Government spending cuts aimed at bringing budget deficits under control must be a very real concern for you. How will EADS’ communications department work with these cuts?
The modest savings we are doing at communications level are irrelevant compared to budget deficits, so I hope you are not asking for my additional contribution to reduce those. I would rather say that our efforts are focussed on convincing governments that, beyond what is legitimate in reducing deficits, they should not focus mainly on defence savings, because the defence sector – although not always important in terms of public opinion – is nevertheless crucial to preserve the future, and abandoning skills and know-how in specific areas of the defence industry is a irreversible process that can be detrimental for national and European autonomy. And it is less about production of present equipment than about research and development for future programmes, a vital sector for both the European defence and the European defence industry.
It has also been suggested that EADS “will have to intensify its search for orders in emerging markets”(The Financial Times, December 5, 2010). What role do you envision that communications will play in this exciting new challenge?
EADS was born as a European company, and is now developing on three pillars: Europe, the US and emerging countries. We are already deeply involved in developing our communications assets, first of all with EADS North America which is very active in helping us develop our footprint in the US, and also with important countries like China, India and Brazil, where we are setting up communications relays to address the local market in a consistent group approach, to complete and complement what has already been launched by the individual brands.
Finally, you began as a journalist in 1972, so this year marks your 40-year professional anniversary. Congratulations! So what does the future hold – first for EADS and the aerospace industry in general, and then for you personally?
I am proud to have been part of the pioneers who created EADS. After 10 years, even 11 now, I can say the hardest is behind us. I do not mean that there will not be challenges ahead, but the company is today a global one, a giant of 120,000 employees, a champion of new technologies in all sectors with a powerful range of new-generation aircrafts, ahead of its competitor Boeing, with an outstanding order book over 500 billions euro. The programmes are giving visibility in the fields of aircrafts, helicopters, space platforms and defence and security systems for the next 50 years, and even on the stock market EADS is now back among the favourites. The future will be different, but is definitely promising! As for myself, after having had exciting experiences for the last 40 years, I need now to find new and different challenges for the next 40 – but that’s another challenge!
Interview by Dafydd Phillips