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John Leahy

What did it take for Airbus Industrie to soar from 20% to 50% of the global aircraft market? Seven years and one aggressive salesman. Since New York-born John Leahy took charge of its commercial division in 1994, Toulouse-based Airbus has logged two-thirds of the 4,200 orders in its 31-year history and pulled even with Boeing Co. (BA)

And Leahy, 50, is still gaining altitude. He's leading Airbus into the extra-large aircraft market, challenging the Boeing 747 with a bigger jet, the 555-seat Airbus A380. Leahy has booked 62 orders for the A380. Boeing shelved plans for a stretch version of the 747, which failed to attract customers. But it has unveiled plans for a long-haul jet that will fly 20% faster than today's planes.

Leahy says Boeing's new plane won't hurt demand for the A380. He's keeping up his frenetic pace, though, traveling 200 days a year. Leahy has to sell at least 200 more A380s for Airbus to break even. For the salesman from New York, the heat is on.

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