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Rolls-Royce declares major leadership reshuffle

Rolls-Royce reveals major leadership reshuffle as new boss pledges to lead aerospace firm off ‘burning platform’

  • Tufan Erginbilgic succeeded Warren East as chief executive at the end of 2022
  • Helen McCabe has been appointed to become Rolls-Royce’s next finance boss 
  • Rob Watson has replaced Chris Cholerton as head of the civil aerospace arm

Rolls-Royce has announced a shake-up of its leadership team, as part of its new chief executive’s plans to turn around the fortunes of the engineering giant.

Tufan Erginbilgic, who succeeded Warren East as CEO at the end of 2022, launched a transformation programme in January aimed at enhancing the firm’s profitability.

He has compared the FTSE 100 company, known for manufacturing aircraft engines, to a ‘burning platform’ and said its current trajectory was ‘unsustainable,’ adding that it had ‘not been performing for a long, long time’.

Turnaround man: Tufan Erginbilgic, who succeeded Warren East as CEO at the end of 2022, launched a transformation programme in January aimed at enhancing the firm’s profitability

The Turkish-born boss has appointed Rob Watson to run Rolls Royce’s civil aerospace division, transferring him from his role heading the electric aviation technology business.

Watson replaces Chris Cholerton, who has been moved to the group president post and has worked at Rolls-Royce since leaving Oxford University in 1981.

Cholerton, a former chief of staff to Warren East, was at the forefront of the response to the crisis regarding Rolls-Royce’s faulty Trent 1000 aircraft engines, which landed the company with a £2.4billion bill for compensating airlines.

He was also in charge at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when the grounding of planes caused a heavy financial blow to Rolls-Royce, given that its revenues largely depend on how often planes with its engines are flying.

Rolls-Royce said Watson ‘brings innovative business insights, coupled with robust commercial discipline, as well as a proven ability to develop and maintain strong customer and supplier relationships’.

Meanwhile, Helen McCabe, a former colleague of Erginbilgic at oil supermajor BP, has been hired to become Rolls-Royce’s next chief financial officer.

She will replace Panos Kakoullis, who will stand down in late August after just two years in his role, having spent three decades previously working for ‘Big Four’ accounting firm Deloitte.

McCabe has worked at BP for more than a quarter-century and is currently its senior vice-president of finance for the customer and products arm, which covers lubricant brand Castrol and electric vehicle charging network Pulse.

Erginbilgic said: ‘Her track record of promoting rigorous financial discipline and experience of delivering performance management to achieve dramatic improvements will be invaluable as we move, at pace, to transform Rolls-Royce.

‘I have experienced her abilities first-hand, and her skillset will complement the existing capabilities of the executive team, contributing to Rolls-Royce delivering on its significant potential.’

In addition, Tom Samson, the head of the group’s small modular reactors division, has departed with immediate effect, while Adam Riddle will become president of the company’s defence business and chairman in the North America region.

Rolls-Royce said the former military officer was ‘instrumental’ in securing contracts to re-engine the US Air Force’s B-52 aircraft and the propulsion system for the V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft currently being developed. 

Rolls-Royce Holdings shares were 0.8 per cent up at 151.4p in early Friday trading, although they remain far below their pre-pandemic levels.