How has Lord Sharman influenced the insurer - and who will replace him?

News that Aviva has begun the process of finding a replacement for its chairman Lord Sharman of Redlynch has sparked speculation about who will take over at the helm of the UK’s biggest insurance company.

The 67-year-old’s term as chairman is due to end in 2013, and Aviva is understood to want a smooth succession plan.

The former KPMG UK senior partner – then plain Colin - has been chairman of Aviva since January 2006 after joining the company’s board almost exactly a year before.

Rated as a relatively ‘hands on’ chairman at Aviva, Sharman also holds the chairmanships of BG Group plc and Reed Elsevier plc.

In addition, he served as the Liberal Democrat party’s spokesman on business affairs in the House of Lords until this year’s general election.

Awkward moments

But he has generally maintained a low profile at Aviva, at least in relation to the rest of the insurance industry.

An exception to the rule happened last year when Sharman spoke up in support of Andrew Moss after it emerged that the Aviva group chief executive was involved in a relationship with Deirdre Moffatt, the wife of Aviva’s HR director for Europe.

This episode has not been the peer’s only tricky moment. On a far less lurid but probably more consequential note, a change to the accounting standard for the company’s life book triggered a tumble in Aviva’s share price. But while Aviva has not exactly set the world alight under Sharman, despite the completion of its brand overhaul, most give him credit for helping to steer the insurance and pension giant through choppy waters.


Who will take over? One analyst, who asked not to be identified, noted that the City would want an outsider as Aviva’s next chair.

The pool of candidates is not as lavish as may be supposed, however, despite the plethora of bank chief executives, who have just come on the market - one of the names touted in connection with the Aviva chairmanship is outgoing Barclays chief executive Sir John Varley.

But IT’s analyst source cast doubt on whether even a company as big as Aviva could secure a figure with Varley’s level of international business experience.

Other names mentioned include former Aviva chief executive Richard Harvey and ex-financial services minister Lord Myners, who chaired Marks & Spencers.

Busy, busy

A senior insider notes that the next three years will also see a number of heavyweight figures exit the FSA and the top echelons of the civil service, which has proved a happy hunting ground for City chairs in the past.

In the meantime however, Lord Sharman will have enough to keep his hands busy at Aviva. RSA’s offer for Aviva’s general insurance business, which the peer received in person from his opposite number John Napier, looks like unfinished business. And Moss’s future remains a Square Mile talking point, with Aviva UK chief executive Mark Hodges seen as a strong candidate to take the reins.