Peter Davis tipped for top at the Pru for top at the Pru

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Peter Davis, former chairman of Reed International, is set to succeed Mick Newmarch as chief executive of Prudential, Britain's biggest insurance company.

Mr Davis, who joined the Pru's board as a non-executive just nine months ago, quit unexpectedly as co-chairman of Reed last June after a boardroom struggle at the Anglo-Dutch publishing giant.

Although Mr Davis's appointment has not been formally finalised, he is believed to be close to agreeing terms with his fellow non-executive directors, who are all on the committee set up to find a replacement for Mr Newmarch.

He could be announced as Mr Newmarch's successor at the Pru when the group reports its annual results next week. His appointment will be seen as providing the group with a heavy hitter to follow in the footsteps of Mr Newmarch, although Mr Davis's style is less abrasive.

Mr Davis would be seen as an elegant choice for the Pru - he is neither an insider nor an outsider, as he is on the board but has never had any executive responsibilities at the insurer. The Pru has never appointed an outsider as chief executive.

He has a reputation as a charismatic and effective manager, with particular strengths on the marketing side. His appointment would confrim the shift in the insurance industry away from traditional leaders with actuarial backrounds towards general managers with marketing skills. Mr Davis, 54, is seen by fellow directors as a figure with a steady hand who can steer the Pru through difficult times in the industry.

His style is seen as less confrontational than that of Mr Newmarch, who became involved almost in trench warfare with regulators, although he was seen in the City as a successful chief executive.

The Pru would have been reluctant to have gone outside entirely for a new chief, but no internal candidate was seen as quite ready for the top job.

Jim Sutcliffe, who was seen as the leading internal candidate, was considered, at 37, too young, although it is thought probable that he will be groomed to eventually succeed Mr Davis when he leaves.