Simon English: Moss set for a rocky ride but he may well cling on as Aviva tries to tough it out
Thursday 03 May 2012
Outlook It was there in black and pink on the front page of the Financial Times. Front page of the FT! Aviva chief Andrew Moss is "swept up in a pay storm" said the august journal of record... "but a bigger question is whether the company needs a new chief executive". And then this line attributed to a top ten shareholder: "No one supports Moss."
That was two days ago, confirmation of City whispering that has been going on for some time of which Aviva internally seems (pretends?) to have been blissfully unaware.
No one supports Mr Moss. Front of the FT.
Whether Mr Moss is personally a nice guy or not – some say he is, some say he's not – is not the issue on hand at today's annual meeting. (The Barbican. 11am. Rock up. Throw fruit.)
Whether he can survive, or perhaps how long, definitely is. Over the past few weeks I've asked several investors and analysts closely tied to the insurance sector why Mr Moss is not popular, and the responses go something like this: He misled to me. He lost me money. He cannot be trusted.
All of these responses might be entirely unfair; people say unkind things. An alternative view of Mr Moss might be that he led an important and hugely complex organisation through an awful financial crisis. That he modernised and streamlined an out-of-date company. That whenever it has really mattered Aviva has been there for customers and that shareholders should just show a bit of patience.
City sentiment is presently giving Mr Moss zero credit for any of these things. They want him out.
Annual meetings tend to be dull affairs that the media desperately try to sex up. They were rocky. Bad tempered. Fury was vented. Read all about it. Today's meeting might be genuinely feisty. And the vote against the chief executive's reappointment is one to watch. He won't lose, but anything less than a resounding win...
So far, Aviva has shown little sign of grasping the level of opposition its top man faces. Scott Wheway, the chairman of the remuneration committee, put his name to a statement issued on Monday that suggested either naivety or laziness on his part. As though he'd only just noticed not all is well at the company where he is a director.
As though investors that have seen their shares halve under Mr Moss's reign weren't bound to be annoyed.
Something has got to give. Heads must roll. Deputy heads, Mr Moss is hoping.
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