Jeremy Warner's Outlook: Egg should be kept to help Prudential's bid to revitalise its once mighty UK business

World's favourite airline bids adieu; Sacked Danon may return to Britain
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The Independent Online

Now it falls to his successor, Mark Tucker, either to try again or to find some more value-enhancing purpose for Egg within the wider group. With Mr Tucker due to present on strategy in a couple of weeks' time, his decision has become the object of considerable speculation in the City.

I've no inside track, but I'd be amazed if he sells. Indeed, I would expect him to make Egg a key part of his strategy for revitalising the Pru's business in the UK, a course of action which might eventually result in him buying out the minority. Why would I say this?

For starters, the Pru no longer needs to sell. Having failed the first time around to get the price it wanted, the company solved its capital-adequacy problems by cutting the dividend and having a rights issue instead. After that it was inevitable that Mr Bloomer would get the boot, as he had insisted he would do neither, even after failing to sell Egg. By doing so, he lost the trust of the City and the board.

Yet to use that dreadful Blairite expression, we are where we are. Mr Tucker doesn't come with any of the Bloomer baggage. He starts with a clean sheet, and fresh from his short learning experience at HBOS, he knows the true value of banking distribution to the insurance proposition. HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland have been highly successful in developing a multi-brand strategy, with a variety of differently branded products channelled in a disciplined and coherent manner through the banking network. It's bancassurance, but with a difference.

What's more, after a decade of ever-growing government-imposed price and sales regulation, it's a struggle to make traditional savings products pay, especially in what is still an incredibly subdued savings market. The margins in retail banking, by contrast, remain mouth-wateringly thick. The smart money is in banking, not life assurance.

When Mr Tucker first joined the Pru more than 20 years ago, the Pru stood head and shoulders above all others as the dominant player in the UK savings market. The next biggest was so far down it scarcely registered. Today, the Pru is just an also-ran with less than 10 per cent of the market. Somewhere along the way, it lost the plot, an eventuality for which the South African-born Mr Tuc-ker is largely blameless since throughout most of these years of decline, he was abroad, building the Pru's highly successful Asian business.

Revitalising the UK operation must therefore be his main priority. In this, the Government hardly helps, with a savings policy that is as confused as it is non-conducive to decent levels of thrift. We can only hope that the Turner report on pension reform marks a change of direction, for everything the Government has done to date has only made matters worse.

Yet with its once prime position in the UK savings market, there is arguably no company better placed to benefit from the progressive "greying" of the UK population. The Pru's knowledge of mortality, tightly defined by geography, socio-economic background and medical history, should enable it to offer some of the most keenly priced annuity products on the market.

It makes no sense to sell Egg, the brainchild of the much-maligned Sir Peter Davis while he was chief executive at the Pru. Rather, a better fist needs to made of managing and developing it.

World's favourite airline bids adieu

It has been an open secret for some weeks now that Maurice and Charles Saatchi are about to lose the British Airways advertising account which helped launch them on the road to fame and fortune all those years ago.

The brothers sprang into the national consciousness in 1979 with their "Labour isn't Working" election posters for Margaret Thatcher. Three years later they reinvented BA as the "World's Favourite Airline", a tag which has stuck ever since, even though it has not actually been used in the airline's advertising for nine years.

Alas, M&C Saatchi no longer appears to be BA's favourite advertising agency. That mantle seems about to pass at last to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which thought it had wrestled the account from Maurice and Charles a decade ago only to discover that the then chief executive, Sir Colin Marshall, had personally intervened at the last minute to keep them on board.

Just as the Saatchis helped revive the Conservative Party's fortunes, so Mrs Thatcher turned to Sir Colin (now Lord) Marshall and Lord King to help turn BA from a bloated and moribund state enterprise into a shining example of how privatisation can liberate a business.

BA's new chief executive, Willie Walsh, does not carry the same kind of sentimental baggage and, for him, changing advertising agency is probably not much different from hiring a new catering supplier. The loss of BA's business is not the end of the world for M&C Saatchi. It accounts for only 7 per cent of the agency's billings. M&C retains a roster of blue-chip clients and in Maurice Saatchi, it still possesses one of the best operators in the business.

But it is a sign of the times and a reminder, particularly in people businesses such as advertising, that you are only as good as the people you know. Lord King has passed away and Lord Marshall has been gone from BA for more than a year now. Maurice Saatchi could be seen at this year's annual BA shareholder meeting sat in the front row, taking copious notes as the new chairman Martin Broughton set out his vision. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have helped him with his sales pitch.

Sacked Danon may return to Britain

Pierre Danon, sacked last week as chief operating officer of France's Capgemini after secretly interviewing for the top job at Accor, is one of the most unashamedly ambitious executives I've ever come across, and this from a field not known for hiding its light beneath a bushel. Now he's heading back to these shores, where there are a number of "opportunities" he hopes to pursue. A word of warning. M. Danon is not a team player, or not unless he's the captain, a position he's yet to attain.

While at British Telecom he behaved for all the world as if he was the chief executive, holding his own press briefings and speaking with assumed authority on the future of his industry and the company.

In fact he was just the head of retail, where he came as close to declaring UDI from the company he worked for without suffering the usual consequences as I've ever seen in a humble line manager.

The real chief executive, Ben Verwaayen, called the public dispute M. Danon had with wholesale about whether he should be allowed to invest in his own DSL equipment a "debate". In truth it was a scarcely veiled pitch for independence, or perhaps for Mr Verwaayen's job itself.

Make me chief executive or I will go, he seemed to be saying, so he went, though not to the top slot he craved. His subsequent falling out with his boss at Capgemini was ironically an inevitability much predicted by those who knew him in Britain but a total surprise to his native France.

M. Danon is such a determined type he'll no doubt eventually get the position he desires, though probably not in France, where Capgemini's statement that "the necessary conditions to maintain his leadership position could no longer be met" must have trashed his reputation. M. Danon's disloyalty might not count against him in the cut and thrust of our more raw, Anglo-Saxon ways. Whether he's any good or not is anyone's guess.

j.warner@independent.co.uk

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