British insurance giant Prudential P.L.C. yesterday named Finance Chief Tidjane Thiam as chief executive effective Oct. 1. Thiam will become the first black head of a FTSE 100 company.
“I am delighted at this opportunity. Prudential is an outstanding organization, with a proud history and an exciting future,” said Thiam at a news conference in London Thursday.
Thaim will succeed Mark Tucker, who served as CEO for four and a half years.
Thiam joined Prudential in March 2008 from Aviva P.L.C., where he was an executive director and CEO of Aviva Europe. From 1986 to 1994 he worked for McKinsey & Co. in Paris, New York, and several European Union countries, focusing on insurance companies and banks. In 1994, Thiam returned to his birth place, the Ivory Coast. He was elected partner of McKinsey & Co. in 2000, where he worked until joining Aviva in 2002.
“Tidjane is ideally equipped to succeed Mark, given his global experience, knowledge of the sector, and his outstanding leadership qualities,” says Harvey McGrath, Prudential’s chairman. “We are delighted to have such an outstanding and proven successor in Tidjane.”
Tucker’s resignation came the same day that the company reported a loss of 396 million pounds ($566 million) for 2008, mainly due to writedowns on the value of assets in the U.S. Overall losses in the U.S. were 1.06 billion pounds, compared with 18 million pounds in 2007.
Sandra Kerr, national director of British advocacy group Race for Opportunity, said Thaim’s new role is “a watershed moment for British business and should be widely celebrated,” but, she adds, “ethnic minorities in management remain shockingly underrepresented in our work force.”
In a study, Race for Opportunity estimates that black and ethnic minorities held 6.8% of management positions at the end of 2007, while making up 10.3% of the population. In the U.S., there are less just six black chief executives at Fortune 500 companies.
During an extensive interview with the Guardian newspaper in 2007, Thaim recalled his childhood as a son of a diplomat who had also been a political prisoner. Thaim was educated in France, where he is a citizen, and at 24 he joined McKinsey as a consultant. By his early 30s, he was back in Africa after accepting a job as the CEO of the National Bureau for Technical Studies and Development, reporting directly to President Henri Konan Bédié and the prime minister.
He was invited to join the government and became the minister of planning and development and was responsible for strategic planning, coordination of public investment in infrastructure, and poverty alleviation. He grappled with the decision to join the government, he told the Guardian, because the president was known to put political opponents in prison.
“Basically for me, in the third world you have two kinds of regimes: You have regimes that kill, and you have regimes that don’t kill. And I was very proud to be an Ivorian until