Where Legends Are Made

UA Alumnus, President of Airbus Helicopters, Inc. Shares Journey to Success

The way Chris Emerson tells it, his life changed dramatically almost the moment he first set foot on campus at The University of Alabama.

Every summer during his high school years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Emerson would leave his home state of Maine and travel to Birmingham to visit his aunt and uncle, and to earn some spending money.

In the summer of 1992, after having started school at the University of Maine, he made his annual trek to Birmingham. Emerson's uncle took him to Tuscaloosa to visit the university – just for fun.

"We hopped in the truck, came over and I was floored," Emerson said. "I had never seen a campus as beautiful as this. The huge trees, the president's mansion… The Quad was absolutely amazing.

"Just to see all the people and how active they were, you could just tell that this was a warm and comfortable home that you wanted to be in."

And at that moment, he decided that he couldn't go back to Maine. Sweet Alabama was home.

During that visit, he asked his uncle to take him to UA's administration office and he enrolled as a student at the Capstone.

"I did not go home until Thanksgiving," he said. "I shocked my parents. I packed my suitcases, came back and finished school at Alabama."

Emerson said that hard work and his education at UA – he graduated in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in international economics – is why he is where he is today: president of Airbus Defense and Space Inc., a subsidiary of Airbus Americas.

Airbus is an international pioneer in the aerospace industry and the world's No. 1 helicopter manufacturer. The company is a leader in designing, manufacturing and delivering aerospace products, services and solutions to customers globally, according to the company's website.

Being the second largest space company and one of the top 10 largest defense companies, Airbus produces manned, unmanned, electric and hybrid aircraft such as the E-Fan 2.0, which help reduce CO2 emissions.

Just 60 miles from Tuscaloosa in Columbus, Mississippi, Airbus Helicopters manufacturers and sells the UH-72A Lakota helicopter, which is now used as the primary flight training helicopter at Fort Rucker, a U.S. Army base in Dale County, Alabama, where the majority of the U.S. Army's aviation training takes place.

"I'm proud of graduating from Alabama," he said. "It has done so much for me personally and also for my career. My career started with Mercedes Benz in Vance in 1996. …The finance organization thought they should hire some local talent and they went to the career office where I had left my resume.

"…They went through a stack of resumes and found mine. I had done an exchange program with the University of Mannheim (in Germany) and spoke German, and they called me. I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time.

"They flew me down and that launched my career into the business of moving people around – either with cars, or moving military forces around with big airplanes, or now with helicopters."

Emerson started working for Mercedes Benz U.S. International as a corporate controller. After three years at MBUSI, he joined DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA) in Munich, Germany, where he was part of the team that merged it into what would become the Airbus Group Inc.

In 2003, he was named senior vice president and chief financial officer of the EADS North America Defense Company, Inc., a District of Columbia-based subsidiary of Airbus Group that he was charged with establishing. He was also the head of investor relations for North America.

He served in those positions until 2010 when he was named head of Airbus Future Programmes and Product Strategy in Toulouse, France, where he was responsible for establishing the Airbus Global Market Forecast and product policy for current and future programmes. He also led the internal project team that established the A320 aircraft final assembly line in Mobile in 2012.

He was named president of Airbus Helicopters in Grand Prairie, Texas, on June 1, 2015, and on July 4, 2019, he was appointed president of Airbus Defense and Space Inc.

Today, Emerson's connection with his alma mater is even stronger. He was named a member of The University of Alabama's President's Cabinet, and was also named as one of the University's "legends," a prestigious recognition of UA alumni who have distinguished themselves in their professions.

"I made lifelong friends at UA. That happened at day one. It was amazing. Be it going to where I worked out or the various classes I had, I felt like I was part of a family and great school. I wouldn't trade it for anything."