Jeremy Greaves: A swashbuckling adventurer

EADS UK's comms V-P has used his passion for the military to send the aerospace and defence firm's profile rocketing, finds John Owens.

'Swashbuckler' Jeremy Greaves
'Swashbuckler' Jeremy Greaves

To the backdrop of billions of pounds worth of aviation technology, Jeremy Greaves bounds over and offers a firm, enthusiastic handshake.

'Welcome to the best airshow in the world and the best industry in the world - and you are now a part of it,' the EADS UK vice-president for comms and PR beams.

He gestures to the vast range of aircraft proudly lined up for the Farnborough Airshow, an annual coming together of the big and powerful in a big and powerful industry.

Greaves is a man in his element.

Smartly suited, he is armed with a bristling array of facts and figures, few of which involve less than eight numbers.

Engaging and keen to share the passion he evidently feels for his industry, he also has a touch of the excited schoolboy about him.

Except this 'schoolboy' is a key part of a colossal company that straddles the world of both military and commercial aircraft and employs 133,000 people in 170 countries.

Gary Sutton, head of comms for the Royal Navy, has worked with Greaves and says there is nothing naive about Greaves as an operator.

Calling him 'nicely ambitious', he remarks: 'It's instinctive with Jeremy. He is a popular, personable and easygoing guy, but he gets stuff done and cuts to the heart of the matter. He is enthusiastic about what he does and has a great sense of humour, as well as a sharp edge to him.'

Greaves, 44, has been in the job for seven years, and seems to be a genuine fully paid-up member of his employer's fan club.

'I am most proud of EADS not just as a vision of Europe industrially, but as the part of Europe that makes world-beating products - it's a symbol of all that can be good about Europe. We've taken on the might of Boeing and demonstrated Europe has what it takes to make world-beating products.'

He also considers the first stage of his job done. Though subsidiary Airbus is widely familiar, EADS itself was little known among even its stakeholders, something he believes has changed.

Next, he says, comes communicating the company's increased focus on ethical and environmental issues, which he willingly admits will be a big challenge.

Reaching this point has not been easy. With characteristic elan he describes working in 'a phenomenally complex environment, with a heady mix of industry, technology and politics, cocktails and kerosene'.

It has also not been without controversy, perhaps not surprising for a company of its magnitude, some of whose products are, ultimately, instruments of war and conflict.

Lobbying government is a key part of Greaves' job. Asked about an incident in 2010 when minister Bob Neill asked EADS to scale back its lobbying activities, the father of two is diplomatic, if keen to move on.

Greaves points out this was the work of a subsidiary company, but adds that 'we hadn't performed to the standard we would want and the standard that the Government would want'.

But those looking to paint him as a shadowy character more likely to try to hoodwink the press than inform it would do well to hear him describe an incident from his past.

He talks engagingly of a time he was working in comms for the Navy during the Kosovo crisis in the 1990s.

When it was announced that an enemy jet plane was heading towards the ship and the captain flippantly told Greaves and the visiting journalists to finish their coffees and stay put, he describes how he virtually wrestled with a naval officer to get the press crew up on to the deck to witness the event.

'You have to believe that rapport and trust (the press team) on instinct. You have to take serious judgement calls on that instinct which could, and have, got me into trouble, but I am convinced I have taken the right decisions more than I have taken the wrong ones,' he says, again turning serious.

'I still wake up in a cold sweat at night sometimes, but the point is what we do is inherently risky so if you want to do it well you have to take risks.'

The fact Greaves' 'gilded' background is steeped in an enthusiasm for engineering and the military perhaps explains a genuine excitement for his industry.

Regularly sailing with his family at Rock, Cornwall, it was a combination of joining the cadets and reading the Hornblower novels that led him to the Navy, where comms was one of many duties.

However, it was the one that stuck, leading to work both in the military sector and agency life.

Such is his attachment to the Navy, he has been given the rarefied honour of being made an honorary commander, a role in which he provides mentoring and guidance on how the Navy interacts with the public.

This enthusiasm has passed on to his two boys, who regularly make trips to Rock as he did, and he claims: 'If I could, I'd spend my life on the beach there.'

Yet this image does not quite fit.

Earlier on in the interview, Greaves says that as a youngster 'I decided I wanted to swashbuckle my way through life'.

He may not be on the high seas so much now and his frequently ringing phone may be his only substitute for a cutlass.

But, as the EADS executive bounds off to shake some more hands and take some more risks, the image does not seem like such a far-fetched one after all.

CV

2005: Vice-president, comms & PR, EADS UK

2002: Senior comms manager, Lockheed Martin UK

1999: Deputy head, Defence Procurement Agency Press Office

1996: Account manager, MDA Public Relations

1990: Public relations officer, HMS Campbeltown

2010-present: Honorary commander, Royal Naval Reserve

1995-2010: Lieutenant commander, media operations specialisation, Royal Navy Reserve

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Passing my GICS exams and going to work at the Defence Procurement Agency at Abbey Wood outside Bristol. This is the UK's largest purchaser of manufactured goods and manages complex projects from tanks to helicopters and satellites to ships.

Have you had a notable mentor?

I've been lucky to work with a number of inspirational people, but I have learned more from my current boss Robin Southwell than anyone. He's inspirational.

What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

Be nice to people and remember where you started. What goes up, can come down ...

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

Passion, an inquiring mind and someone who is fascinated by technology but doesn't forget it's the people behind the technology who make the difference.

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