Last updated: March 19, 2009 10:32 pm

Pru leads way with black chief executive

Tidjane Thiam, a French national who was forced to flee a coup in the Ivory Coast less than 10 years ago, was on Thursday named chief executive of Prudential in a move heralded as the first appointment of a black chief executive by a FTSE 100 company.

Mr Thiam, currently finance director of Prudential, succeeds Mark Tucker, who is stepping down after four years as chief executive of the life assurer.

Mr Thiam, a 46-year-old former McKinsey consultant, spent six years in politics in the Ivory Coast before a military coup toppled the government in 1999.

He joined Aviva, Britain’s biggest insurer, in 2002 before leaving to become finance director at the Pru last March.

Mr Thiam’s appointment was hailed by unions and groups promoting greater diversity in the workplace. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: “This is very encouraging but we need more than one black CEO at the top of a FTSE 100 company.”

Sandra Kerr, director of the advocacy group Race for Opportunity, said it was a “watershed moment for British business and should be widely celebrated”.

Most UK public companies do not track the ethnicity of their board members but Race for Opportunity estimates that black and ethnic minorities held 6.8 per cent of management positions at the end of 2007, while comprising 10.3 per cent of the population.

In 2003 a review of non-executive directors led by Derek Higgs, a former investment banker, had found British boardrooms were overwhelmingly dominated by ageing, white male corporate executives. The review found non-British nationals accounted for only 7 per cent of non-executive directors, British citizens from ethnic minorities 1 per cent and women 6 per cent.

The US has a broader ethnic representation in top jobs. As of Diversity Inc’s survey last summer, 19 chief executives in the Fortune 500 were from ethnic minorities, including five black people, seven Latinos and seven Asians. The first black chief executive, Franklin D. Raines of Fannie Mae, was appointed in 1999.

Mr Tucker insisted the decision to step down was “entirely personal”. The appointment came as Prudential reported forecast-beating 2008 results, with a 17 per cent increase in operating profit under a standard that reflects the worth of in-force policies to £2.96bn. However, it made a pre-tax loss under international financial reporting standards of £2.07bn compared with a pre-tax profit of £1.06bn last time.

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