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AIG names former Airbus executive to lead Century City aircraft leasing firm

Henri Courpron will be the fourth chief executive of International Lease Finance Corp. in as many months.

May 20, 2010|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

American International Group Inc. has tapped a former top Airbus official to take the helm of its Century City-based aircraft leasing business, which in recent months has been devastated by executive defections.

The insurance giant said Wednesday that it had appointed Henri Courpron president and chief executive of International Lease Finance Corp., one of the world's largest aircraft leasing companies with a fleet of nearly 1,000 commercial jets.

The appointment of the longtime Airbus executive was seen as a way to bring some stability to the business, which has been rocked by several-high profile resignations.

"What I bring to ILFC is a wide range of experiences in aviation," Courpron said in an interview Wednesday. "My role here is to help management lead the company."

The unit has been without a permanent chief executive since February, when co-founder and CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy abruptly left the company to start a rival business, Air Lease Corp. His longtime associate John Plueger left a month later after briefly serving as Udvar-Hazy's replacement. Alan H. Lund, the company's chief financial officer of 28 years, most recently filled the interim CEO's post.

"An aircraft leasing firm needs a strong leader to call the shots, meet with customers and make some deals," said Tom Captain, principal and vice chairman of Deloitte's aerospace and defense practice. "ILFC has been without that type of personality for some time."

Courpron, a French native, worked at Airbus, the European aircraft maker, for 20 years, holding various positions including president and chief executive of Airbus' North American unit. His most recent position was president of Seabury Group, an advisory and investment banking firm in aviation and aerospace based in New York and Toulouse, France.

Courpron could make a good matchmaker between airlines and airplane manufacturers, having worked both sides of the business, said George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Va.

"Having experience buying and selling aircraft is a powerful combination," said Hamlin, who worked with Courpron at Airbus for several years. "He's well-respected in the aviation industry. But it's up to him to demonstrate what he can do in this new role."

One thing is for sure, Courpron has some big shoes to fill.

Udvar-Hazy co-founded International Lease Finance in 1973 and later became a billionaire when he sold it in 1990 to AIG. Udvar-Hazy continued to run the company.

But in 2008, the federal government began overseeing the firm's day-to-day operations after its financially troubled parent, AIG, received $182.5 billion in government aid. As part of its oversight, the federal government placed limits on what AIG could pay top executives, including those at ILFC.

Unlike the larger-than-life role that Udvar-Hazy had with the company, Courpron said he was more likely to rely heavily on his management team for leadership rather than take center stage himself.

"It's not about me, it's about ILFC," he said.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the company said Courpron would earn a base salary of $975,000 a year and a stock package currently valued at $1.68 million.

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