The dealmaking skills of Iberia's new executive chairman, Antonio Vazquez, could prove a prize asset for the Spanish flag carrier as it looks to revive stalled merger talks with British Airways.

Vazquez, a 57 year-old from Spain's southernmost Andalusia region, stepped in on Thursday to replace Fernando Conte, news of whose departure coincided with a report -- denied by the airline -- of shareholder pressure on Iberia to step up the pace of talks.

Conte had planned to quit before he turned 60 next March.

Despite the fact that Conte initiated these negotiations and was not an impediment to the merger, I think this will help quicken the pace of a deal, Josep Francesc Valls, an aviation industry expert at Barcelona's ESADE business school said.

Vazquez made a reputation as a canny dealmaker at the helm of tobacco firm Altadis, having worked his way up over 15 years.

An excellent English speaker with slicked back hair and a good name in international financial circles, he managed to draw healthy interest in Altadis in 2007.

A bidding war took the price of Altadis gradually higher to end up in the hands of another British firm, Imperial Tobacco,, which finally met the cigarette-maker's asking price of 12.6 billion euros ($17.54 billion) in cash.

Vazquez was a board member at Iberia between 2005 and 2007 representing an Altadis unit, Logista.

Since 2008 Vazquez, an economics graduate, has been a director at Telefonica's International unit, hired by the telecoms giant's respected chairman, Cesar Alierta, under whom Vazquez had worked previously at Altadis.

Vazquez, known as a strong communicator and a savvy strategist, still shares his love of cigars with Alierta.

(Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary and Tomas Gonzalez; editing by John Stonestreet)