Pru insiders line up for the Newmarch stakes

Two dark horses have emerged as leading candidates in the race to succeed Mick Newmarch as chief executive of Prudential, Britain's biggest insurer.

Pru insiders say that John Maxwell, corporate development director, and Jon Engestrom, head of M&G Re, are likely to make the shortlist for the top job.

The committee of non-executive directors formed to recommend a candidate to the full board met for the first time last week to initiate the selection process. The committee is chaired by Sir Martin Jacomb, who is due to take over from Sir Brian Corby as chairman of the Pru in May.

Pru insiders believe the job will go to an insider - the company has never appointed a chief executive from outside. The most fancied runner remains Jim Sutcliffe, head of the home service division, although at 37 his comparative youth is considered a handicap.

There is growing support for appointing a stop-gap candidate to keep the seat warm for Mr Sutcliffe's accession in a couple of years. The leading candidate for that is Hugh Jenkins, who runs Prudential Portfolio Managers, the fund managment arm. He is due to retire soon, but is viewed as a credible stop-gap for stability and continuity, as he is highly respected in the City.

Mr Maxwell, 50, only joined the Pru last year, but crucially he has experience of running a public company as chief executive of BPB, the plasterboard company. However, he resigned from that job after 10 months following a boardroom row.

Mr Engestrom, a Swede, is credited with having turned around the Pru's reinsurance company, M&G Re. Keith Bedell-Pearce, who runs the financial services division, completes the quartet of leading internal candidates.