European Defense Companies Focus On Asia

By Leithen Francis
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
April 22, 2013
Credit: Aviation Week

Some European aerospace companies are shifting their focus—and staff—to markets where there are more growth opportunities.

Saab recently established an Asia-Pacific regional headquarters in Bangkok headed by Dan-Ake Enstedt, who was president of Saab North America. “I was covering the U.S. and Canada. It is the same concept. What we did there, we are trying to do in Asia and the rest of the world,” says Enstedt.

All Saab employees in the Asia-Pacific region report to Enstedt, and he reports directly to Saab CEO Hakan Bushke. Saab's business and reporting lines were restructured to reflect geographic markets under the direction of Bushke, who joined the Swedish aerospace giant in November 2010. Enstedt says reporting directly to the CEO means decisions can be made more quickly.

Before this restructuring, Saab largely had its managers and employees in Sweden. They would fly out from time-to-time to meet with prospective customers for a sales campaign overseas. In the past, that may have made sense because, as Enstedt points out, 20 years ago Sweden accounted for 80% of Saab's business. Times have changed, however, and 70% of Saab's business is now outside of Sweden, he notes.

Enstedt sees this shift coming for U.S. defense companies, as well. “They are where we were 20 years ago,” he says. “Eighty-five percent of their business is in the U.S.” But the recent cuts to U.S. defense spending, and the prospect of more cuts in future, means U.S. defense companies will have to move more workers to markets outside of the U.S., predicts Enstedt.

Saab has divided its global business into six regions: Europe/Middle East, India, Asia-Pacific, Nordic nations, Africa and the Americas. Besides Bangkok, Saab has Asia-Pacific offices in Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Singapore, Canberra, Seoul and Jakarta. “We are trying to be closer to the customer. We also have a strategy to team up with local industry and to do transfer of technology,” Enstedt says.

In Malaysia, Saab is partnering with industrial conglomerate DRB-Hicom to meet offset requirements that will arise if Saab, for example, wins the competition to provide fighters and some airborne early warning aircraft to the Malaysian air force.

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