Confirmation that Charles Woodburn is to become CEO of BAE Systems in July will not only come as little surprise to those that have come to know him well since he joined the company last May, but it is also one that I am sure will be welcomed throughout the company, by investors and by all those that the company serves.
The announcement this morning that Ian King, who had come into BAE Systems through the 1999 merger with Marconi and who was subsequently appointed CEO in September 2008 – an extremely difficult time that coincidently was just one month before the global financial crisis occurred – is to stand down in June marks the end of what I would describe as being a very interesting chapter in the annuls of this very important company and the beginning of what I believe will be an equally interesting, challenging and yet quite possibly, a far more exciting one.
An admitted pragmatist by nature whose advice to everyone within the company I seem to remember was ‘keep it simple and be true to yourself’ it is suffice to say that Ian King has done a remarkably difficult job very well. He leaves the company with a very well-defined strategy, a well balanced portfolio of interests, large order backlog together with excellent long term programme positions and importantly, strong programme execution.
During his time as CEO Ian King has strengthened BAE Systems across the board, de-risked the company where appropriate and importantly, successfully steered the group through what has been a very challenging period of constrained defence spending. He has in my view very successfully delivered improved management of key programmes, cost efficiencies and importantly, constructed a more collaborative relationship with the UK Government.
Ian King should be very proud of what he has achieved in successfully steering BAE Systems through such a challenging period and one that was not only constrained by reduced defence spending in key markets and requirements to do more for less, but also one that required delivery of consistent improvements in respect of key programme management. King built a strong team around him who recognised the need to deliver more for customer and shareholder alike. Importantly, from the start Ian King recognised the need to produce programme cost efficiencies whilst attempting to build that seemingly illusive more collaborative relationship with the UK Government. Neither objective would be easy but under Ian King’s leadership, both have been very successfully achieved along of course with the other important requirement, investing in people and in the company’s own future.
Charles Woodburn inherits a BAE Systems that is not only very fit for purpose but also one that is today very well positioned to deliver strong performance and to compete well within what we may hopefully foresee as an improving defence spending environment internationally. He also inherits a company that under Ian King has seen its culture of operation and its reputation transformed for the better as senior management has driven through implementation of the Woolf report’s recommendations through all parts of the company.
While Charles Woodburn brings a wealth of external experience to BAE Systems it is to me his engineering credentials combined with the extensive and wide ranging international experience that he clearly has including management of complex projects and programmes that leaves him so very well placed for the role of CEO of BAE Systems.
Since he joined the company last May as Chief Operating Officer, Charles Woodburn has travelled around BAE Systems UK operations and throughout its many international interests and programmes engaging with staff in order to better understand the complexities of the industry and markets that BAE Systems serves.
Since joining the company as Chief Operating Officer he has also been leading ‘Programmes and Support (UK) and Applied Intelligence Businesses and getting to know BAE Systems government customers and many of those within its supply chain. In the process, he has been driving operational performance and collaboration across the Group, including leading the Procurement Council and contributing to the delivery of group strategy.
Apart from energy, enthusiasm and very experienced approach Charles Woodburn brings over 20 years’ international experience primarily from the international oil and gas industries gained in a number of senior management positions including CEO of Expro Group, an oilfield services business for just under six years and, during a 15 year career at Schlumberger, various senior management roles including VP Engineering, Manufacturing and Sustaining, President, Wireline much of which was in the Far East, Australia, France and the US.
CHW (London – 22nd February 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785