‘Major Tom’ Airbus boss Tom Enders enjoys hang-gliding, skiing and trekking through the Australian outback
When Airbus was developing its troublesome A400M military aircraft back in 2010, it wanted to demonstrate the plane’s suitability for paratrooper operations.
The company arranged for ten experienced skydivers to make the drop over Seville from a dizzying 12,000 ft. First to take the daring leap off the ramp: Airbus chief executive Tom Enders.
Tough guy Enders is the aerospace industry’s action man. Among the married father-of-four’s hobbies are hang-gliding, skiing and trekking through the Australian outback. Oh, and he also likes to fly helicopters.
Colleagues call him ‘Major Tom’ as he once served as a ‘para’ in the German army and you’d know it just to look at him.
Standing 6ft tall, he has a cast-iron jaw, ‘come and ‘ave a go’ blue eyes and less body fat than an Ironman triathlon champion.
He might look like a baddie from Die Hard but he’s blessed with a rakish charm, rare among aviation’s egg-headed engineers, as well as a refreshingly direct manner.
Once when asked about the discovery of cracks in the wings of Airbus’s A380 superjumbo, he replied bluntly: ‘Yah, ve schrewed zat up.’
Herr Enders is not at all happy about Brexit, reiterating this week that it threatens Airbus’s 15,000 workers in the UK.
Not that he’ll be around when Britain leaves the EU. He departs his £3million-a-year role next April as part of a management shake-up.
Enders says the firm needs ‘new faces’ to take it into the next decade. His high-octane existence is at odds with his simple upbringing.
Born the eldest of four in the bucolic German municipality of Bruchertseifen, his father worked as a shepherd.
Those humble early years were formative, with the whole Enders family expected to pitch in around the farm. They never took holidays.
Enders’ uncle had flown Messerschmitts in the Second World War (he survived being shot down three times) and his nephew strived for a similar life of excitement.
After the army, Enders looked destined for a political career. With an economics degree under his belt, he took a job in Germany’s ministry of defence before a lucrative leap into the defence industry.
In 1991 he joined Daimler Chrysler Aerospace where he eventually became head of its defence and securities business.
Remainer: Enders is not at all happy about Brexit, reiterating this week that it threatens Airbus’s 15,000 workers in the UK
When the firm merged with French aircraft manufacturer Aerospatiale-Matra in 2000 to form firm EADS, Enders was made the group’s head of defence.
Eventually replacing Louis Gallois in the top job in 2012, he decided to rename the firm Airbus Group after its biggest subsidiary.
His tenure has been beset by heavy turbulence. There have been constant squabbles between French and German factions in the firm.
Since Airbus is seen as an industrial champion by both countries, their politicians often find cause to stick their noses in.
Just what a febrile political juggling act the job encompassed soon became apparent when Enders immediately embarked upon an audacious £28bn merger with Britain’s BAE Systems.
His plan was to diversify the business and make it more competitive with Boeing. Talks began, contracts drafted. German Chancellor Angela Merkel then took one look at the deal and declared: ‘Nein.’
More recently, there was a power struggle between Enders and chief operating officer Fabrice Bregier, whose Gallic eyes were fixed upon Enders’s job.
Enders appeared to win that battle when Bregier left in February. But with the firm dogged for years by corruption scandals relating to events before his time in charge, Enders has pulled the rip cord and won’t seek re-election when his term expires next year.
But Airbus is a far less fractious firm than the one he inherited. Other successes include the recent acquisition of Bombardier’s C series aircraft, rechristened the Airbus A220. What next?
Enders plans more flying, jumping and mountaineering near family home in Munich.
Aerospace will be a duller place, though I suspect it may not be the last we see of him.
However far he falls, Tom Enders has a habit of landing on his feet.