BUSINESS

Bombardier's new CEO could be on the hot seat at first annual meeting

05/03/2015 10:00 EDT | Updated 05/03/2016 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Bombardier's new CEO is expected to be on the hot seat next week as he meets for the first time with shareholders who are clamouring for a turnaround plan after enduring a rough year by the struggling transportation giant.

After just six weeks on the job, Alain Bellemare is unlikely to be blamed for the company's poor financial performance, which drove its shares down 45 per cent in the past year and 66 per cent since 2011.

But industry observers believe investors will be seeking reassurance on Thursday that the veteran aerospace executive can develop a strategy for success.

"Everyone is going to want to know where he's taking this business," said David Tyerman of Canaccord Genuity.

The analyst said it's premature to get detailed answers when Bombardier only recently hired strategic advisers to review the commercial aircraft operations.

He said Bellemare has moved quickly to put his mark on the company by bringing in a new bench of top executives, including the head of commercial aircraft and chief aircraft salesman. A search is also on for a new chief financial officer.

Kevin Chiang of CIBC World Markets said Bellemare has faced a "baptism of fire" after taking over from Pierre Beaudoin, who replaced his father as executive chairman.

The younger Beaudoin, who headed the company for more than six years, is now responsible for merger and acquisitions.

The fate of Bombardier's (TSX:BBD.B) railway division appears most uncertain. Some have also questioned the future of Learjets and amphibious aircraft.

Bombardier said February it's examining all "strategic options" as part of consolidation in the railway sector, but Quebec's economic development minister said he's been assured that the rail unit is not for sale.

Recent reports from Beijing say two Chinese rail companies -- currently in the process of merging to create the world's largest producer -- are eyeing Bombardier transportation to help extend their reach into western markets.

Analysts say Bombardier's rail unit could fetch up to US$5 billion, but doubt an outright sale is in the cards or could pass political and regulatory review. More likely is a joint venture or sale of assets to rivals such as China's CNR/CSR, Alstom, Siemens or GE.

While annual meetings can be unpredictable, Bombardier's founding family controls a majority of votes and there's been a big turnover among institutional investors.

Karl Moore, a professor at McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management, says Bombardier has blunted criticism by appointing someone who is viewed as being highly qualified for the job given his past experience as a top executive at engine-maker Pratt & Whitney.

"It's too early to give him a hard time about whether it's succeeding or not," he said, adding that any serious negotiations about asset sales wouldn't be discussed in public.

Patience could wear thin within a year, however, if there isn't more clarity about changes.

For now, the major focus will be on the delayed and costly CSeries commercial jet. The plane has undergone more than 1,500 hours of flight tests ahead of an expected entry into service early next year. The CS100 is expected to be featured at next month's Paris Air Show, where analysts are anticipating that a lull in orders will cease.

Chiang said a joint venture partnership with Chinese aircraft manufacturer COMAC seems to make strategic sense since they have a fostered a relationship with the CSeries and the large Chinese C919 aircraft.

Beaudoin, who headed the company for more than six years, is now responsible for merger and acquisitions

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