• Charles Woodburn appointed chief operating officer in February
  • CEO Ian King to remain at company until next year at least

BAE Systems Plc’s heir apparent to Chief Executive Officer Ian King will start to meet with key customers and suppliers in autumn in preparation for taking the top job, according to a person familiar with his schedule.

Charles Woodburn, who joined BAE in February as chief operating officer as part of the company’s plans to replace King, 60, will take a greater role with outside stakeholders from October or November, the person said. The more public role is an indication that Woodburn is finding his feet after spending his first six months getting to grips with the company’s operations.

Woodburn joined the military contractor after five years as CEO of oilfield explorer Expro International Group Ltd. and 15 years at oil-services provider Schlumberger Ltd. BAE hasn’t provided a time line for the succession, with King set to remain until at least February, when the company reports annual earnings.

“He’s a bit of an unknown entity at the moment,” Zafar Khan, an analyst at Societe Generale in London, said by phone. Even though he worked in a different industry, Woodburn could help BAE boost exports because of his exposure to international markets, Khan said.

U.K. Cuts

BAE is under pressure to lift exports because the U.K. is expected to cut defense spending after its vote to leave the European Union. IHS analysts have said military spending in 2020 will be 2.3 billion pounds below previous forecasts, at 44.5 billion pounds ($58.7 billion).

“Top-line growth is a major, major priority,” Khan said. “It’s going to be new geographies, new services, new products.”

After taking over from King, who has been at BAE’s helm since the global financial crisis, Woodburn will lead development of a new warship for the Royal Navy, as well as a successor to the U.K.’s submarine-based Trident nuclear missile system. Other projects include a cross-border joint-venture with Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and France’s Thales SA and Safran SA to build an unmanned combat air vehicle.

King, who turned 60 in April, was also appointed COO while being groomed for the senior role. Unlike Woodburn, he was a company veteran, having joined one of BAE’s constituent companies in 1976.

“As you would expect from a well-run company, succession is planned well in advance and handled in an appropriate and orderly way,” BAE said in a statement.

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