Standard Life hunts for new finance chief

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Standard Life was yesterday beginning a search for a new finance director after John Hylands, the current incumbent, was put in charge of the leading the company's historic demutualisation process.

The move was seen in the City as a way of easing Mr Hylands out of the group, and analysts are expecting him to leave once the demutualisation process is completed in up to two years' time. The company then plans to list on the stock exchange. The board has been severely criticised for its management of the company over the past four years, during which time its multi-billion pound capital reserves have dwindled and customers have seen their policy values slashed. The board has also come under fire for its narrow field of experience, having always recruited executives from within the Standard ranks.

Mr Hylands has been at Standard for 25 years, making him a relative newcomer compared to Sandy Crombie, the chief executive, who has been at Standard for 37 years.

Standard now wants a finance director with heavyweight Plc experience in its transition to become a public company. After mounting a vicious defence of its mutual status for the past four years, it has some way to go to persuade the City to support its flotation.

The headhunting firm, Heidrick & Struggles, will now begin a search for a new finance director and rumours were yesterday circling that Mike Biggs, the former finance director at Aviva, a rival insurer, may be on its list of candidates. He left Aviva last year to pursue other interests and is not thought to have taken on another job.

Mr Crombie is also not expected to survive in the top job beyond Standard's flotation. "There is the potential that an incoming finance director could find themselves the chief executive after flotation, which would make the job more attractive," Roman Cizdyn, an analyst at Commerzbank, said.

Mr Hylands, who received a basic salary of £270,000 and £85,000 bonus last year, will continue his finance duties until a replacement is found. As head of the demutualisation process, which could pass on windfalls to Standard's 2 million policyholders, he will co-ordinate with Merrill Lynch and UBS, who were yesterday appointed as financial advisers on its demutualisation. Other advisers appointed yesterday were the actuarial firm, Watson Wyatt, PricewaterhouseCoopers as accountants and the lawyers Slaughter & May. Lazards and Clifford Chance, who advised on the strategic review that led to the demutualisation proposal earlier this year, will still advise the company on non-demutualisation issues.