Aviva looks to former AIA boss Wilson to get it back on track

Aviva has appointed a new chief executive
Aviva has appointed a new chief executive
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AVIVA, the insurer struck by a shareholder rebellion last spring, has named Mark Wilson, former head of Asian rival AIA Group, as its new chief executive on a potential pay package of up to £5.4 million.

Wilson, a 46-year-old New Zealander, joins on 1 December and will take over the top job on 1 January, succeeding Andrew Moss who quit in May amid investor discontent about a chronically weak share price and his own remuneration package.

The six-month search for a new boss at Aviva has been led by executive chairman, Scots-born John McFarlane, who will return to the post of non-executive chairman.

Analysts said Wilson, who towards the end of his four-year tenure prepared Hong Kong-based AIA for its successful 2010 stock market listing, inherits the task at the British company of shedding under-performing businesses and growing revenues.

“My first task will be to listen to Aviva’s stakeholders, including customers, shareholders, staff and regulators, and ascertain the key concerns and opportunities that face the business. There is substantial work to do,” Wilson said yesterday.

He added that over recent years Aviva had “not performed to its potential”, and he promised to address this under-performance with “rigour and focus”.

The company has big general insurance operations in Scotland, employing about 1,500 in Perth and 1,000 in Bishopbriggs.

McFarlane, who temporarily took on the executive chairman role when Moss was ousted after a stormy Aviva AGM as part of Britain’s activist “shareholder spring”, said Wilson had 25 years experience in life and general insurance. “His leadership credentials are incredibly strong,” McFarlane said. “He has an outstanding track record of leading a major insurer, of transforming its performance and culture, of implementing a growth agenda and of producing significant shareholder value, all of which are essential for Aviva’s success.”

McFarlane said the global search for a new chief executive included internal and external candidates, believed to include Aviva’s chief financial officer Pat Regan, and the board decision to appoint him was unanimous.

When AIA Group floated on the stock market it was valued at $36 billion, compared with a current value of $46bn.

Aviva’s statement yesterday said Wilson, who is also credited with steering AIA Group through the financial industry crisis, would be paid an annual salary of £980,000 and is in line for a performance-related bonus next year of up to nearly £1.5m. Two-thirds of this will be deferred and in shares.

In addition, Wilson will be eligible for participation in a three-year rolling long-term incentive plan (LTIP), with up to a maximum of 350 per cent of salary, paid in shares.

Before AIA, he was chief executive of AXA China Region Ltd, Axa’s Hong Kong business. Matthew Preston, insurance analyst at Berenberg, said: “Wilson’s hire represents another step in the Aviva transformation. He is a candidate with significant experience of the sector... and one whose appointment will likely be taken well by investors.”