Chubb, the security group, yesterday surprised the City by saying its chief executive, Robert Gasparini, would step down next month, with a pay-off of £560,000.
Although the company said Mr Gasparini was leaving voluntarily to pursue a business opportunity in the US, he will still receive a pay-off worth one year's salary. The current chief financial officer and deputy chief executive, Jonathan Findler, will become acting chief executive.
The news on Mr Gasparini was followed by a 13 per cent rise in Chubb's shares to 92p. Analysts said this was partly due to speculation a new management team might trigger takeover talks. Mr Gasparini, an American, has been chief executive of Chubb since it floated in November 2000, after it was spun out of the old Williams conglomerate.
Chubb said Mr Gasparini was quitting because "He has decided to pursue new business interests back in the USA." This is thought to be a management consultancy start-up. Chubb indicated Mr Gasparini was keen to return to the US because that is where his family lives.
The group attempted to dampen speculation that Mr Gasparini had fallen out with Chubb's newly appointed chairman, Sir Robert Horton.
City sources concurred that the relationship between the two was not the reason for Mr Gasparini's exit. One analyst said: "It looks like he has decided to go rather quickly, possibly because he has received a new offer he couldn't refuse."
Chubb said it had appointed the headhunters Miles Partnership to conduct a thorough review of available talent. Mr Findler is thought to be the likely successor, even though he has been required to take on the job temporarily for the time being.
Chubb's shares have fallen nearly 60 per cent since May 2002, after takeover talks fell apart with Securitas, the world's biggest security service group.
Securitas is thought to be the prime candidate for future bid talks with Chubb. There are not thought to be that many alternatives, in a market where takeovers are seen as difficult because there are not many strategic fits between the major players.
Mr Gasparini has been trying to rebuild Chubb's reputation since it reported a profits warning in December 2000.