BAE Systems on brink of appointing new heavy-hitting female chair

Defence giant BAE Systems on brink of appointing new heavy-hitting female chair to succeed City grandee Sir Roger Carr

Defence giant BAE Systems is on the brink of appointing a new heavy-hitting female chair to succeed City grandee Sir Roger Carr. 

An announcement could come as soon as this week when the company unveils its half-year results. Assuming there are no hitches, it will be the first time that the company has had a woman leader.

It will also mean there is a female chair at three of Britain’s top defence firms, which were until recently a masculine preserve. Anita Frew took up the post at Rolls-Royce last summer and Ruth Cairnie stepped into the role at Babcock in July 2019. 

The incoming chair at BAE, who is going through the final stages of security vetting, is understood to be a seasoned player with experience of large and complex industry at an international level. 

Because of the sensitivity of BAE’s defence work, including the Tempest jet fighter aircraft, the Government insists that either the chairman or chief executive must be a UK national. It also means the identity of the new chair remains for now a closely guarded secret. This leaves the field clear for the chair to be a citizen of the US or another friendly nation, as Charles Woodburn, the CEO, is British. Sir Roger, one of the UK’s most distinguished business figures, joined the BAE board in 2013 and became chairman the following year. 

The veteran industrialist joined shortly after a disastrous attempt by the company to merge with European aerospace giant EADS, and he succeeded in stabilising the business. He is stepping down next May, by which time he will have served the maximum nine-year term approved under corporate governance guidelines. 

The company is believed to have looked at internal and external candidates. 

Existing female directors on the main BAE plc board include Dr Jane Griffiths, who had a long career at Johnson & Johnson, former Boeing executive Nicole Piasecki, US insurance executive Crystal Ashby and Dame Elizabeth Corley, a former chief executive of Allianz Global Investors. 

Women on BAE’s US board include Kelly Ayotte, a former US Senator, legal eagle Alice Eldridge, government relations guru Shelly O’Neill Stoneman and Gina Haspel, the first female head of the CIA. 

Shares in BAE have risen by more than 40 per cent in the past year, despite gloom on the markets, making it one of the best performers in the FTSE100 index. 

Analysts forecast the company will ring up sales of around £10.4billion in the first half of this year and underlying earnings before interest and tax of just over £1billion. 

Defence stocks have come into favour due to the Ukraine war which has reopened a debate over whether so-called ‘ethical funds’ should continue to blacklist arms manufacturers. 

BAE has been beefing up its board and last month hired the UK’s former top civil servant Lord Mark Sedwill, who was Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser, as an independent director. He will take up his post in November.