Mark Tucker, the chief executive of Prudential, is to step down from the role, the insurer said yesterday in a shock announcement. Pru, which also unveiled forecast-beating profits, said Mr Tucker, who has led the company since 2005, would be replaced by finance director Tidjane Thiam.
The departure of Mr Tucker, 51, after only four years at the helm was unexpected. He will leave at the end of September after spending half his working life at Prudential. While analysts and industry sources said the choice of Mr Thiam, who was poached last year from Pru's arch-rival Aviva to be the finance director, was no surprise, they had not expected him to move up so quickly.
"The figures themselves were not a surprise, the surprise was the CEO going," said Tony Silverman, an analyst at Standard and Poor's.
Views diverged on why Mr Tucker stepped down so unexpectedly, but he moved to quash speculation that a disagreement over whether to bid for assets being sold in Asia by the beleaguered US insurer AIG had caused a row.
"On AIG, we did not submit a bid in the process," said Mr Tucker. "Our view is that we could not get to the value criteria that we had in place."
Among Mr Tucker's achievements at the insurer was the sale of its struggling internet bank Egg to Citigroup in 2007 for £575m. Failure to sell the business after announcing the intention to do so in 2004 was one of the factors that had led to the departure of his predecessor, Jonathan Bloomer.
"The Houdini act Tucker managed was to sell Egg to Citi," said a senior investment banker who looks at insurance. "It was a clean-up job that needed doing." Even so, Prudential's shares have fallen by more than two thirds since mid-2007, and in a challenging market some speculated Mr Tucker may have wanted to hand over to a younger and hungrier successor.
Britain's largest insurer by market value also reaffirmed its solid capital position and said its new business profit rose 8 per cent, fuelled by Asian growth. The group, which operates in the UK, the United States and Asia, hiked its final dividend by 5 per cent.
This was delivered against a backdrop of a sharp economic downturn and credit crisis, which thwarted the financial sector, particularly in the second half of 2008.
Close attention is now being paid to the capital surplus of insurers and their ability to generate cash in a tough environment. Prudential said it is strongly capitalised, with a surplus of more than £1.7bn.
Mr Thiam, who once served as a government minister in the Ivory Coast, will become the first black chief executive of a FTSE 100 company. Ironically, as head of corporate development at Aviva, he was central to the company's unsolicited takeover bid for Prudential in 2006, which Mr Tucker fought off.
Mr Tucker gave little away on his plans for life after Prudential, but he does not plan to retire, saying that he has "one more big job in him".