Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

EADS O’Keefe sees corporate life similarities to government, academia

December 16, 2009

He’s been head of NASA, the Navy, and Louisiana State University and spent practically his whole professional life in either government or academia. USA/AERO-ARMS-SUMMIT

So when it came time for the next step on a varied career path, Sean O’Keefe broke from the past and chose the corporate route.

Since Nov. 1 he has been EADS North America’s chief executive officer and seems quite comfortable in just six weeks rattling off the company’s position on 373 requirements for a Pentagon tanker contract.

In an interview at a Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit, O’Keefe said he found similarities among the corporate, government and academic sectors.

“It is a terrific opportunity to bring a different perspective from that checkered background of experiences to a set of opportunities,” he said.

“There are common elements to it,” O’Keefe said. “It’s very much how do you look at technology choices and where your confidence is and how do you want to pursue that for market opportunities. It’s all just different ways of defining it.”

But there is one difference, and it’s a big one — the quarterly earnings report card for publicly traded companies.

“The motivations and the metrics, if you will, of performance are much more omnipresent — as in every quarter you’re reminded how well you did,” he said.

Despite the high stakes for EADS, parent of Boeing’s arch rival Airbus, which is hoping to get a firm foothold in the United States, O’Keefe says his compensation does not include any kind of a bonus if the company wins the tanker deal again.

That may be good news, given analysts’ assessment that the odds are clearly stacked in Boeing’s favor in this round — the Pentagon’s third attempt in eight years to replace airplanes that are nearly 50 years old on average.

Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Theiler (O’Keefe at Reuters summit)

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