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MBDA: Creating a Defense Giant

Marwan Lahoud
Former Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Airbus & Former CEO at MBDA

Learning outcomes

  • The founding story of MBDA and challenge bringing together different European cultures and beliefs

Executive Bio

Marwan Lahoud

Former Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Airbus & Former CEO at MBDA

From 2007 to 2017 Marwan served as Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer of Airbus and was a member of the Group Executive Committee. Marwan is credited with having been the chief architect behind the creation of both Airbus and MBDA and also a key individual in the decision to re-engine the A320ceo to launch the A320neo. He led the strategic and international development of Airbus to position it as a global enterprise: during his tenure, the order book of the business grew from €265bn to more than €1,000bn. Previously, Marwan served as CEO of MBDA, the global missile systems company jointly owned by Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo. Having begun his career at the French Ministry of Defense in 1989, Marwan was appointed Special Advisor to the Ministry in 1995. Read more

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Interview Transcript

What was your biggest challenge when you were leading MBDA?

It was creating one company, out of three or four companies, that were competing, with different nationalities, in an environment where, because it is defense, it is very nationalistic. I had the Matra people, French; the Aérospatiale people, French – fiercest competitors for 35 years. The BAE people, the Marconi people – fierce competitors since World War II. The Alenia people, Italy and the LFK people, Germany. Having all these guys, living together, working against the same targets. The way to achieve that, as a leader, is twofold. You need to throw your passport away, what you were or what you believed in or where you were coming from, is gone. It’s easy to state, but not easy to do.

We are all defined by our history. What I was asking myself, is to just draw a line on what defines me.

How did you do that?

Firstly, I decided I would be based in London. I could have been based in Vélizy, near Paris. I decided I wanted to go to London. I spoke French, obviously. I spoke English; I learned German and Italian. Not as good as my French, but I was addressing the people in their own language. So there is a mistake when you say that the working language is English. It doesn’t matter. What matters is, to be understood and to understand the people.

Before joining Aérospatiale in 1998, that become Aérospatiale-Matra and EADS and Airbus, I was with the French MOD. What I decided is, I wanted to get acquainted with the MOD in Britain, the MOD in Italy and the MOD in Germany. I wanted to tell them that, as an individual, not just as the company, but Marwan Lahoud is going to serve you, as if I were a British, an Italian or a German citizen. I may not have succeeded, fully, but this was a condition to be considered by those people. One of the greatest moments in my tenure at MBDA is when HMG, in 2003, invited me to meetings about the Iraq intervention, the Iraq War, the second Gulf War, despite being French. When, after having addressed the issues with them, at the end of the meetings, the Chief of the Defense Staff said to me, we leave the management of the French team to you, in your organization, because we don’t want to offend them.

So I was considered as, almost a British national. This international challenge was, at the same time, the biggest challenge and one of the biggest achievements, I would say, in MBDA. It drove value. This is the very positive part. It drove lots of value.

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