David Prosser: A U-turn for the new man at the Pru

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The Independent Online

Outlook Well let's at least say this about at Tidjane Thiam, the new chief executive of insurer Prudential: he is sensible enough to listen to constructive criticism. Plenty of chief execs would have tried to tough out the row Mr Thiam ran into this week when French bank Société Générale announced it wanted him as a non-executive directors. Instead, Mr Thiam said yesterday that he would not accept the job after all.

Quite right, too. The role was a minor one – just five afternoons a year – but that was hardly the point. Pru's boss has been in the job for only six months and has just agreed to buy AIA, the Asian assets of AIG, a deal that will transform his company and require shareholders to support a record-breaking rights issue.

Not all of those shareholders are yet on board with Mr Thiam's vision. So they were hardly likely to be impressed to hear that, rather than focusing all his attention on one of the biggest business integration tasks ever, their chief executive was planning to take time out of the office to earn a £31,000 non-exec fee elsewhere. Many investors said so both publicly and privately.

This episode represents an error of judgement on Mr Thiam's part. Aware that the AIA deal is a serious worry for some shareholders and that, even leaving aside such concerns, making a success of it will be an enormous challenge, he should have let SocGen know it wasn't appropriate for him to accept the bank's offer before it became public.

On the plus side, Mr Thiam snuffed out the row quickly. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake in a new job – let's hope that by concentrating his full attentions on the AIA integration, the new man at the Pru now proves the deal was not another one.