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Dr. Thomas Enders or Tom has been with Airbus, world's second largest airplane manufacturer and its predecessor companies for 23 years serving across the full breadth of the company's business units and multiple locations. His professional life is so atypical that this CEO of the high tech aerospace company did not even work in the business in the first ten years of his career. He studied economics, political science, and history and got into a world of politics, defense ministry and think tanks. But then, he went for opportunities which were not in plan and placed himself in a different orbit. A true visionary in aviation industry, he is flying high with Airbus today, which has 134,000 employees of more than 80 nationalities, working in 160 locations and annual turnover of 67 billion euros ($78.6 billion). He is known for reinventing the company through research, technology, innovation and ground-breaking alliances and partnerships that impacted the future of aviation industry and transatlantic relations. He has shaken up every aspect of the group to make its culture more innovative and economical.

Early career...

Dr. Tom's professional life started as a research assistant at German and British think tanks and as an assistant in the German Federal Parliament. He was also a paratrooper and attained the rank of major in the German Army Reserve. He then joined the planning task force of the German Ministry of Defense, as a Member of the “Planungsstab” and stayed for two years.

Taking the flight to aviation industry...

Dr. Tom Enders landed in the world of aerospace in 1991 when he joined the marketing team of Daimler Chrysler Aerospace AG (DASA). After spending a few years in marketing, he rose through various roles like Chief of Staff, Director of Corporate Development & Technology, and Head of Defence Systems.

After the merger of DASA with Aérospatiale Matra and Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA, that created the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) in 2000, he was made the head of EADS Defence and Security Systems Division. His efforts in merging the German, Spanish and French aerospace companies was commendable. He also headed the Group’s Defence Division from 2000 to 2005.

From 2005 to 2007, this German was the co - CEO of EADS along with Noël Forgeard first and Louis Gallois later. However, the going got tougher after the first year with delayed launches, drop in share prices, bad shape of financial statements, allegations on his co-CEO, his resignation and replacement etc.

In 2007, when the outdated co-chair system was scrapped off, this great leader became the head of Airbus, the commercial aircraft unit and the main subsidiary of Airbus Group. With Dr.Tom in the forefront, Airbus opened an assembly line in China which started a new chapter expanding into emerging markets. It was the first one outside Europe, a giant step. He was instrumental in the establishment of the European plane giant's business in the United States. In 2008, Airbus delivered a record number of aircraft and increased its customer base. More customers and more number of orders saw turbulent times ahead with the need to scale up the production, technical difficulties and the pressure to deliver the orders on time. But he did not sit back and let the difficulties get to him.

Flying high on Airbus...

Dr. Tom assumed the mantle of CEO of Airbus Group SE on June 1, 2012. The group was known as EADS until January 1, 2014 when it was renamed as Airbus Group after its biggest subsidiary. He has been a member of the Executive Committee of Airbus Group since its creation in 2000. He had numerous challenges to deal with including the ripples of issues from the previous years. He set out a bold plan to shake up the corporate conglomerate by normalising the company's governance, reorganisation, restructuring its portfolio and enhancing its growth and profitability. However, he got a hard blow at his first attempt towards this when German Chancellor failed to back the deal worth €36bn to merge Airbus with Britain’s BAE Systems, just months after taking office. The deal, if executed would have created world's largest aerospace and defense company. He then worked towards governance changes to reduce the political influence and making presence of Airbus in Asia – Pacific and North American regions.

Dr. Tom Enders earned his stripes when he moved the headquarters to Toulouse, France stating that the headquarters should be where the main activity is. Inspite of strong opposition from German politicians, he stuck to his plan. He brought in many significant changes since then like streamlining the business, rebranding EADS to Airbus, consolidating space and defense divisions, merging corporate headquarters with commercial jet unit etc. All of these changed the way the company worked and made it more integrated, collaborative, less bureaucratic for speedier decision making and execution, more economic and shareholder driven.

As Dr.Tom move closer to the completion of his second term in 2019, Airbus has a bunch of new ideas to look forward to. Many new initiatives like entering to drone industry, building an on-demand helicopter service with Uber, creating a space based internet system, a new modular transportation system, called Pop.Up, that combines autonomous cars and drone, expansion in the usage of 3D-printed materials in its aircraft etc are in developing stage.

Personal life...

This son of a shepherd describes himself a country boy. After graduating from the University of Bonn, he went abroad as an exchange student to do Ph.D in Economics, Political Science and History from the University of California in Los Angeles. The stay in US gave him a preview of what it means to be ‘going international.’

He spent his weekends driving to the deserts of California and skydiving from old DC-3 Dakota airplanes during his college days. This keen skydiver jumped from one of Airbus’s own A400M planes in 2010. He stays fit through jogging and hitting the gym regularly. This lover of outdoors enjoys skiing in winter, mountaineering and skydiving. Fitness is a more of a mental state to him than physical. He pilots an helicopter twice a month and skydive about 20 times a year. He was handed down his passion for the aviation industry to all four of his sons, who are all connected to the industry.

He has always been present in the prominent policy circles as a member of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s business advisory group, member of steering committee of the secretive Bilderberg Group of global elites etc. He speaks regularly about leadership on international platforms.

Leadership style...

This remarkable front runner doesn't believe in micromanagement. He builds a great team by mentoring and leading by example, and then delegate responsibilities to the team and let them do their job. He always prepares his team to react to the unanticipated. “This is parallel to what happens in battle. You have your plans, and you know your resources and troops. You need to act always on something that you had not expected. Business is no different, because you are dealing with so many unknowns” he says.

Associations and memberships...

Member of the BDI Board, Joint Advisory Council of Allianz SE, Advisory Council of the Munich Security Conference as well as the Senate of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Member of the International Advisory Board of Atlantic Council of the US, Advisory Board at HSBC Trinkaus & Burkhardt AG
A Director of EADS CASA S.A. and OneWeb LLC
Member of Supervisory Board at Linde Aktiengesellschaft, of the Shareholder Board of Airbus S.A.S, of the Board of Directors of WORLDVU Satellites Ltd

Awards and accolades...

Awarded his Doctorate in Politics from Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn in 1987
Received Distinguished Business Leadership Award of Atlantic Council in 2014
Holds a Private Pilot's License (PPL) for helicopters


Follow directions, but challenge decisions; success depends on the ability to innovate and to engage a passionate workforce.
Coming in second in a duopoly is not a silver medal, it’s a defeat.
One of the most important things for the CEO is not to micromanage the business, and give our orientation, as far as strategy is concerned, and to look after HR development. Human resources are the key factor.
We expect our leaders to be ready for tomorrow. We want them to be more connected, inspired and inspiring at the same time, open-minded, curious, and develop their teams and guide them to collective success
Remain humble: don’t worry about getting credit and don’t let power and authority go to your head.
Don’t be afraid of challenges. Even if you fail, whatever that is, if you’re doing something that’s exciting to you, you’ll find a new opportunity.

Hope readers caught up the spark …