Headhunters sound out Schiro for Pru's chairmanship

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The Independent Online

Jim Schiro, the former chief executive of Zurich Financial Services, has emerged as a candidate to replace the Prudential chairman, Harvey McGrath, if the former Man Group boss bows to investor pressure and quits.

It's believed that Mr Schiro, who left Zurich at the end of last year after helping to turn around the Swiss insurance giant's fortunes, heads a list of possible replacements for the chairmanship drawn up by headhunters.

Weeks after Prudential was forced to abandon its plans to buy AIG's Asian assets for $35.5bn following an investor rebellion, shareholder ire has shifted from the insurer's chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, to Mr McGrath. A person familiar with the situation said: "Harvey is on his way out so the search is now on for replacement. Mr Schiro is top of many people's list, but he is far from a certainty. Would he want it? I don't really know. He is a fixer."

Mr Schiro, 64, left Zurich after presiding over a term at the helm of the firm which saw a remarkable strategic and financial turnaround in its fortunes. He was forced to leave the insurer at 63 years of age – the oldest age permitted by the Swiss insurer for top executives. "There is certainly another job in Jim," said one financial services banker, adding: "And he does not carry the baggage of some UK possibilities. He knows life insurance, but does he know British life insurance?"

Prudential's Mr McGrath and James Ross, the company's senior independent director, will continue meeting with investors this week . One investor scheduled to meet with Prudential in the next few days said: "We will be telling them that you can't spend £450m, have nothing to show for it, and expect that things will carry on regardless. Someone has to carry the can, probably Harvey."

Another top 10 investor, who met with Mr McGrath and Prudential's senior independent director, James Ross, recently, said: "Things might have gone a bit quiet but don't labour under the misapprehension that we have forgotten. Mr McGrath is on borrowed time."

It's believed that leading UK investors will convene in the next fortnight to gauge overall sentiment toward Mr McGrath, Mr Tidjane and Prudential's board.

A spokesman for Prudential declined to comment.