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Thales Names Former Vivendi CEO Levy to Succeed Vigneron as CEO

Thales SA, Europe’s biggest defense electronics maker, named Jean-Bernard Levy as chief executive officer to succeed Luc Vigneron, who was ousted by the French state and Dassault Aviation SA, the primary shareholders.

Vigneron resigned “after having acknowledged lack of support of the company’s two main shareholders,” the company said today in a statement.

Thales didn’t indicate why France, with a 27 percent stake, and Dassault, with 26 percent, weren’t pleased with Vigneron’s work. A former chief executive of state-owned tanks maker Nexter, Vigneron was tapped by the two parties in 2009 amid a reshuffling of the shareholder structure in which Alcatel-Lucent SA divested its holding and Dassault boosted its investment.

The CEO change comes several months before France’s defense ministry is set to publicize its Livre Blanc, or white paper, setting out objectives for 2014 to 2019. A failed attempt this year by European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. to merge with BAE Systems Plc has led military contractors and government officials to re-examine prospects for combinations.

Levy was chief executive of Vivendi for seven years until he was ousted in June after months of tension with Jean-Rene Fourtou, the chairman since 2002. The disagreements were said to center on Levy’s resistance to turnaround scenarios.

Levy has experience in aerospace. From 1988 to 1993, he ran the satellite communications business for Matra Espace, which became Matra Marconi Space and is now part of EADS’s Astrium unit. In 1993 and 1994, he ran the cabinet of Gerard Longuet, industry minister.

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