GRE rises 5p as Robins named as chief executive: Element of relief at Hopkins' departure

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JOHN ROBINS, finance director of Willis Corroon, the insurance broking group, is to replace Sid Hopkins as chief executive of Guardian Royal Exchange, the insurance company.

Mr Hopkins' impending retirement was greeted by a 5p rise in GRE's share price to 228p. Mr Robins' departure helped shares in Willis Corroon to close 4p higher at 217p.

The City has reservations about both men. One analyst said there was an element of relief that Mr Hopkins was going: 'He was not particularly well-liked within the investment community.'

Some analysts regard Mr Robins as arrogant and aloof. They feel he has sometimes been slow to correct misapprehensions.

GRE has had a bad few years. On top of the heavy losses suffered by the rest of the insurance industry, it made an disastrously ill-conceived acquisition in Italy that cost it pounds 68m, and it has encountered persistent problems from its life insurance arm.

GRE has spoken much about its new management team, and has stressed that Mr Hopkins' senior colleagues were not directors when past mistakes were made. But the insurer has for the first time found it necessary to recruit its chief executive from outside the company.

GRE felt Mr Hopkins was partly the victim of City snobbery. He joined Royal Exchange from school and spent much of his career in insurance sales.

He will have spent 46 years with the company when he retires in August. Although he has reached the retirement age of 62, he will receive some compensation in lieu of notice.

Mr Robins, 54, has had a much more varied career, including five- year spells at both Bally, the Swiss shoe firm, and Fitch Lovell, the food retailing and manufacturing group.

Mr Robins' replacement at Willis Corroon is Richard Dalzell, finance director of the group's retail broking arm.