Pru names FTSE's first black CEO

Prudential boss Mark Tucker will be replaced by Tidjane Thiam - the first black chief exec in the FTSE-100.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


The life assurer announced that 51-year-old Tucker will step down in the autumn, after four-and-a-half years at the helm. He seems to have done a decent job: the Pru's annual results released today reported a net income of £2.9bn, easily surpassing expectations. Shares were up 10% this morning.

Tucker, a former professional footballer who played for Wolves, Rochdale and Barnet, will be replaced by Tidjane Thiam, the Pru's chief financial officer. Thiam was poached last year from Aviva, in a golden hello deal that landed him £650k, sparking rumours he was being groomed to take over.

It seems an interesting back-story is a pre-requisite for the job. If so, Thiam may well have outdone Tucker's lower-league sporting exploits: he's a 6'4" former Ivory Coast government minister who left the country following the military coup in 1999, and was rated the second-most powerful black man in the UK last year, behind Dr Mo Ibrahim and ahead of private-equity boss Damon Buffini.  

Tucker has explained his departure by saying he has achieved what he set out to at the company. But we suspect there may be more to it than that, especially when he's said he's not ready to hang up his corporate boots and reckons he has another job in him. There is now speculation that his move was in part influenced by the fact that his Asian ambitions were thwarted by Pru's failure to jump on AIG's assets on the continent. While financially tricky, the opportunities were ripe for a strong position in the rapidly growing Asian market.

As corporate milestones go, Thiam's marks a significant leap for the UK. Unlike the US, we are yet to have a black chief executive leading one of our most powerful companies.

Thiam has sought to play down the significance of his race. ‘I spent a lot of my childhood in Africa,' he told the Guardian, ‘and I just cannot see myself as a minority - I see myself as a human being... If you start wondering when something happens to you whether it is because you are you or whether it is because you are a minority, life becomes very complicated.'

He makes a good point. And whatever his background, with the economy the way it is and the storm-clouds gahering for the insurance industry, Thiam's life may be about to get complicated enough.

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