C hristian Scherer took the top job at regional aircraft manufacturer ATR in October last year. The opportunity to sit alongside him at 34,000 feet to discuss all things aviation was riveting – and personally, an extremely gratifying experience.
The occasion was the world’s first biofuel flight by an ATR aircraft, a 72-600 operated by Swedish domestic carrier BRA (formerly Braathens Regional).
Scherer traces his early days in aviation back to 1984 as a freshly enthusiastic business graduate who joined Airbus in the contracts department. His career at Airbus was principally in commercial aircraft transactions, and mostly based in America. "I was lucky to be sent to the US during the very early days of Airbus and learnt the trade there. The US is and remains arguably the most competitive and technically demanding market in commercial aviation."
He recalls going through the first full cycle in the mid-80s knocking on airlines’ doors and receiving several lukewarm reactions: "We would say hi, I’m from Airbus and they would say, Airbus who?" But eventually, the first penetration into the US arrived with deals from several American carriers.
"We went through the first feeding frenzy of the late 80s with deregulation and then the first Gulf War recession. I learnt how airlines restructure and the effect that has on manufacturers," Scherer recalls.
He then went back to Toulouse (France) to run a new business segment for Airbus called ‘leasing markets’, basically selling aircraft to the leasing communities and financial institutions. "The idea was to accelerate the market penetration through leases for Airbus."
After subsequent roles in contracts and pricing worldwide he became Deputy Head of Commercial at Airbus behind the illustrious John Leahy. Scherer then did what he refers to as something unusual for an aircraft manufacturer. "I was asked to put together a small team and run strategy – new product development strategy for Airbus. It was absolutely fascinating what we did, we promoted things and brought them to decisions like the A320neo and putting an assembly line into the US to help us gain acceptance in that market and the US aerospace echo system."
He then had a stint in the military side of the business and for a short while ran the Airbus Group international arm, but then it was time for a new challenge.
"When the ATR opportunity came along I raised my hand and said hey, this sounds like fun, it’s commercial aviation and ATR has always been a cousin of Airbus from across the street. I find it fascinating and I was very gratified by the fact that both shareholders [Airbus and Leonardo] gave me the mandate to run ATR for four years, so here I am."
Following in the shoes of popular former CEO Patrick de Castelbajac – who re-joined Airbus as Company Secretary and Chief of Staff – is something Scherer sees as more complimentary but with a difference in terms of management style.
"I think that even though Patrick and I get along extremely well we are two very different people, so I think you will see a different style. That said, both of us are very close to customers, that is very important to us," he states. >>
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