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Prudential Investors Step Up Pressure on Thiam

Posted on 09 Jun 2010

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Following the collapse of Prudential's $35.5 billion bid for the Asian assets of AIG, leading institutional shareholders have called a meeting with the UK assurer to raise concerns over Tidjane Thiam's role as chief executive.

Members of the UK's National Association of Pension Funds, which collectively own about 12 percent of the London stock market, are set to meet the Pru on June 22 to discuss whether a broad shake-up of the board is needed.

Several institutional investors have asked to meet James Ross, senior independent director on the Pru board, to air concerns.

Responding to one private shareholder at Monday’s annual general meeting of the Pru, Mr. Ross defended the company’s chairman and chief executive.

He said: “You have already heard the chairman’s comments that the board has confidence in the chief executive and management team, to which I would add that the board has confidence in Harvey McGrath as chairman”.

The mood of investors was soured by the chairman’s comments last week that there would be no resignations and his description of those shareholders calling for changes at the top as “outliers”.

This prompted a public statement from Schroders, which holds more than 1 per cent of the group’s shares, calling for senior management to be accountable for the £450m ($648m) in costs for launching the bid.

Some investors worry that a boardroom overhaul would destabilize their investment.

However, one institutional investor with a holding that ranks outside the top 20 said: “I can’t see how Tidjane Thiam going would destabilize the business since it was his actions that have destabilized it in the first place.”

Another institutional investor added: “People have stepped back from a wholesale board shake-up, but that doesn’t mean that they have confidence in the management.

“Significant blocks of shareholders believe there should be change and while I have always thought asking the CEO to fall on his or her sword would not be productive, I don’t think the chief executive or chairman of the Pru will both be there in three months’ time.”

A couple of shareholders have contacted Mark Tucker, the former chief executive, about whether he would return, although he would be unlikely to go back to the chief executive role.

Others have pointed to Michael McLintock, chief executive of M&G, the Pru’s asset management arm, as a potential interim chief executive.

One top 15 shareholder said: “It would be curious for Mark Tucker to return, having left.

“But if it was done in association with Michael McLintock and in the full understanding that they would be on, say, a year’s contract to conduct a strategic review, we’d support the idea,”.