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Airbus taps Siemens executive to run defense business

People are silhouetted past a logo of the Airbus Group during the Airbus annual news conference in Colomiers, near Toulouse January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By Tim Hepher and Georgina Prodhan

PARIS/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Airbus Group (AIR.PA) has named Siemens (SIEGn.DE) executive Dirk Hoke as the next head of its Defence and Space division, recruiting an industrial high-flyer with no previous aerospace experience to regenerate its second-largest division.

Hoke, 46, will join Europe's largest aerospace group in January and progressively take over from Bernhard Gerwert, who is due to retire in mid-2016, Airbus said on Tuesday.

The recruitment of the former Renault (RENA.PA) research engineer from his role as head of Siemens' Customer Services Division will reduce the average age of the 15-member Airbus Group executive committee, populated mainly by aerospace veterans in their late fifties or older, to below 55.

He will learn the ropes during the first quarter of next year and take over from Gerwert on April 1, Airbus said, adding that Gerwert will continue to advise him until June at least.

Hoke's appointment reflects efforts by Airbus CEO Tom Enders to reach beyond aerospace as it contends with competition from other high-tech companies and pressures to adapt to digital manufacturing techniques.

Enders said Hoke is "well equipped for a world and business environment that is ever more accelerating” and noted his experience in project management and services.

Speaking to Siemens investors in 2013, Hoke hailed a "manufacturing renaissance" but emphasized the importance of reducing lead times from concept to market -- a perennial headache for a defense industry that is plagued by costly delays.

At Airbus he will face challenges including slow deliveries of the A400M military airlifter and questions over strategy for drones and the long-term future of the Eurofighter jet, which is also backed by BAE Systems (BAES.L) and Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI).

He joins at a tough time for Europe's defense industry, which is struggling as cash-strapped governments cut back military spending.

The Munich-based Defence & Space division was recently combined and slimmed down under Gerwert to focus on warplanes, missiles, satellites and space rockets.

It reported a loss on flat revenue in the first half but remains the group's second-largest division by sales and orders behind the commercial aircraft business.

By recruiting from one of a handful of German groups famed for grooming the country's elite managers, analysts said that Enders appeared to have recognized the lack of a younger generation of German-born industrial leaders inside his group.

He had also neatly avoided rekindling political tensions with Germany over national interests by keeping defense under German leadership, even though officially he claims to have to rid the European company of any politics in filling top jobs.

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(Additional reporting by Jens Hack; Editing by Mark Heinrich and David Goodman)