EADS shareholders back sweeping ownership change

Wed Mar 27, 2013 12:12pm EDT
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By Tim Hepher

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Airbus parent EADS EAD.PA won backing for sweeping changes in its structure, claiming "emancipation" from political interference as shareholders tore up a Franco-German ownership pact in favor of greater management freedom.

Investors in Europe's largest aerospace group also on Wednesday approved a maximum buyback of 15 percent of the group's shares, worth 5.1 billion euros ($6.6 billion) at current prices, but Chief Executive Tom Enders said market conditions would set the actual amount.

Created from a merger of French, German and Spanish assets with a tight rein on strategy, Europe's answer to Boeing (BA.N: Quote) has often been swept up in Franco-German industrial tensions, most notably when A380 superjumbo delays led to job cuts.

Although the simplified structure and a new board have been welcomed following a decade in which EADS served as lightning rod for squabbles over industrial policy, shares in the group fell more than 3 percent as Spain moved to sell part of its stake sooner than expected.

"Good luck to you, Tom, you are in the driver's seat - not an easy task, but so far so good," outgoing chairman Arnaud Lagardere told Enders from the platform after shareholders backed the biggest shake-up since EADS was founded in 2000.

Enders said the new rules would limit government involvement to the roles of regulator or customer, giving EADS management the independence of a "normal" company despite the fact that core government stakes are rising to 28 percent from 20 percent.

Changes include a majority-independent board to be led by former Thales (TCFP.PA: Quote) CEO Denis Ranque.

Lagardere paid tribute to his father, the late French industrialist Jean-Luc Lagardere, as well as the leaders of German carmaker Daimler (DAIGn.DE: Quote) who jointly formed Europe's largest aerospace company and secured Franco-German support.   Continued...

Logo of EADS is seen at the European aerospace and defence group EADS headquarters in Les Mureaux near Paris January 12, 2011. REUTERS/Charles Platiau