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Monday, March 27, 2023

Former Airbus CEO Jean Pearson, “bear of the Pyrenees”, dies

PARIS. Jean Pearson, the “Pyrenean Bear,” who brought the aircraft company Airbus to the world stage and began its transformation from a loose consortium to a European giant, has passed away, former colleagues said on Thursday.

Pearson died Wednesday at the age of 80 in France, they said.

The Frenchman was Airbus’ longest serving CEO from 1985 to 1998, and is credited with penetrating Boeing’s domestic market in the United States, creating one of the world’s greatest business rivals.

“He was a great personality and leader. He pulled Airbus out of the startup to compete head-to-head with Boeing, ”said former press secretary Barbara Kracht, whose father co-founded Airbus.

A tough and voracious trader who grew up outside the narrow circle of Parisian-educated people that dominated French industry, Pearson walked the factory floor and urged sales teams to fight Boeing at home, despite the initial wariness of executives.

In 1997, he received a breakthrough order for 400 aircraft from US Airways, for which he took off his pants to protest demands for last-minute discounts – a tactic first described in the 2007 book Boeing vs Airbus, which he later reiterated.

On another occasion, Pearson told Reuters that he ripped off his shirt, telling a stubborn airline boss that the clothes could also be used in a bargain.

“He was an inspiring leader. He didn’t care about salaries and all he cared about was the people and success of Airbus, ”said Mohamed El Borai, President of Reliance Aerospace and a former Pierson employee.

Nicknamed the “Pyrenean Bear,” the rude steak-loving businessman and bon vivant went on to gamble, which still shapes an industry where success or failure is measured for decades.

He strongly supported the A380 superjumbo, which flopped in the market and is set to see its last delivery in just 14 years. But he accurately predicted that the A400M military aircraft would cause trouble for the then civilian manufacturer. It just received its second export order in 16 years and suffered huge losses.

“Liars Club”

“He knew how to build airplanes, and he knew you couldn’t be a small player to succeed in a duopoly,” said John Leahy, the hard-line American whom Pearson had promoted to Europe as head of sales for more than two decades.

According to Leahy, Pearson was fighting over the future cash cow A320 and kicked out of his office assistants who offered a different cabin for the A321 sister. The one-cab strategy paved the way for the sales of the A321, which are at the heart of the new management’s profits today.

Pearson was “the great humanist behind a bear façade,” said current commercial director Christian Scherer.

Airbus was founded in 1969 as an enterprise between industrial groups in France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom and subsequently won Boeing’s crown as the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer.

It is important to note that Pearson began a lengthy integration process by declaring the original consortium obsolete, according to former aides.

A shareholder meeting veteran known internally as the Liars ‘Club because of partners’ tendency to hide costs, Pearson advocated for Airbus to become a unified company.

Rather than buying planes from shareholders and selling and supporting them overseas, Airbus will need more control.

After retiring from his fishing boat, Pearson made few appearances as the company plunged into more than a decade of skirmish with new partners, but in 2007 he broke the silence to warn that power-sharing between Franco-Germany would fail.

This idea was abandoned in 2013, although the countries remained shareholders.

Tim Hefer

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World Nation News Desk
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