Mike Biggs, finance director at Aviva, the UK's largest insurer, unexpectedly resigned from the group yesterday to take a career break.
Mr Biggs, 50, has been part of the Aviva group for 12 years, but he said he had "decided to take a break to consider the next stage in his career." His intentions to depart Aviva took the City by surprise, as Mr Biggs is highly regarded for having played a part in turning the group in to a global insurer. Shares closed down 1.6 per cent at 446.5p yesterday.
He was finance director of Norwich Union prior to its merger with CGU, out of which came the company that is now Aviva. He was part of the team that demutualised Norwich Union in 1997 and was chairman of its general insurance business.
Mr Biggs said it had been a "tough decision to make" but it was now the right moment "to take time out to think about new and different challenges."
"I am very sorry to see him go but respect his decision to reassess his future," Richard Harvey, chief executive of Aviva said yesterday. He has worked alongside Mr Biggs for many years, but it is thought Mr Biggs became increasingly frustrated that there was no hope of taking the top job in the group.
"He has done a lot whilst he has been at the company and he is probably pretty tired," Roman Cizdyn, an insurance analyst at Commerzbank, said yesterday. "All finance directors want to be the chief executive, and I am quite sure he would have stuck around a bit longer if there had been an opportunity for him to take over from Mr Harvey."
Mr Biggs spent the early part of the year struggling to shake off a flu bug and is now thought to want to take some time off from the gruelling corporate schedule. His family home is in Norfolk, East Anglia, where he lives with his wife and two children.
He earned £1m last year, a significant increase from his £602,000 pay packet in 2001. His car, medical insurance and housing allowance, which includes a flat in London, shot up to £147,000 from £17,000 in 2001. He was also awarded a £200,000 bonus for his efforts to integrate the merged businesses and £57,000 from the company's share incentive plan. He will not get a pay off, but he will be able to take with him a pension worth £128,000 a year.
Mr Biggs will continue as group finance director until the end of December and the search is now on for his successor. Philip Broadley, finance director at Prudential, is likely to be on the candidate list, but an internal appointment may well be made.