Aviva’s new chief executive Maurice Tulloch has quit little over a year into the job due with sources at the company citing his wife’s ill health.
His replacement, Amanda Blanc, will become only the sixth female FTSE-100 boss.
She instantly signalled that she would overhaul Tulloch’s strategic review last year which left shareholders underwhelmed.
They had hoped for a full breakup of the business between its life and general insurance divisions but Tulloch decided on a less radical solution.
Shares jumped 4% as investors welcomed her appointment, although there were some concerns she might cut the dividend.
She starts with immediate effect, meaning Aviva has both a new chairman and chief executive within the space of little over a month. George Culmer replaced Sir Adrian Montague on 27 May.
Career insurance executive Blanc was formerly boss of Axa’s UK and Ireland business and Zurich Insurance’s Europe, Middle East and Africa arm.
She told the Evening Standard: “We recognise what the shareholders have been saying and we’ve seen how the share price has performed. We are looking at an ambitious strategic plan. There are significant opportunities ahead.”
Asked if that meant a breakup, she declined to confirm or deny beyond saying: “We will act quickly. I am not a business-as-usual person. Execution is better than strategy.”
Blanc, comprehensive school-educated and from a mining family in Wales’s Rhondda valley, is a familiar figure in the industry. She worked her way up the ranks in the industry, having started at Aviva’s predecessor company Commercial Union.
She served a term as chairman of the Association of British Insurers, handing over last year.
After “going plural” last year, she took up a role as a non-executive director at Aviva among several other non-exec jobs which she will now be relinquishing.
She was hired after a recruitment process lasting “some weeks”, Culmer said, but the process was clearly done at breakneck pace.
She did not apply for the chief executive’s job when Culmer was looking to replace Tulloch’s predecessor Mark Wilson, who was fired after shareholders became frustrated at the company’s lack of progress on profit improvement.
It was, Culmer said, a “full process”, including internal and external candidates, run by headhunter MWM Consulting.
After senior roles setting up the insurance consolidator Towergate Insurance, Blanc joined Axa in February 2011 to lead its struggling commercial division and by 2014 had turned it around.
She went on to run Axa’s entire general insurance business, then was promoted to group chief executive at AXA UK, PPP Healthcare and its Irish operations.
She moved to Zurich in 2018 to run its European business before leaving last July to take up a plural career, saying today: “I wanted to work in private equity and see what other things were going on in the world. I’d been a CEO for 15 years.”
She took up roles including chairman of the Professional Rugby Board – one of the biggest jobs in Welsh rugby, as well as posts speciality car insurer ERS and an advisory post at Trov, an insurance tech platform.
Speaking of the Aviva job, she added: “This job is the only one that could have got me back.”
In a note to clients, Shore Capital said Tulloch’s replacement was “perhaps inevitable” after Culmer arrived as chairman.
“The appointment of a new CEO will make another round of restructuring at Aviva inevitable, and given the markets’ lacklustre response to Tulloch’s restructuring, the pressure mounts to do something more radical. “
This could involved the split of life and non-life insurance or UK vs international. At the very least it will mean some big disposals, it said.
While Tulloch’s strategy was not deemed ambitious enough, some shareholders were pleased that he did not cut the dividend, as his three predecessors all did.
Shore said: “The new CEO is coming from outside the company so again can take a dispassionate decision on the dividend. The current 11% yield would suggest the market does not expect the dividend to be continued at the current level.”