AXA loses chief executive and markets managing director

The insurance market was rocked by the sudden and unexpected departure of AXA chief executive Peter Hubbard this week. He was swiftly followed out of the door by markets managing director Mark Cliff, who has accepted a senior role with rival Fortis.

Sources within AXA said the decision for Hubbard to step aside after seven years at the helm was mutual. However there have been suggestions that the move happened earlier than expected.

A source said: “The timing may have been earlier than he thought, but it wouldn’t have come as a great surprise. He has already had quite a few offers.”

A spokesman for AXA said the company did not expect any further changes to senior management.

AXA group chief executive of UK and Ireland Nicolas Moreau has appointed former finance director Phillippe Maso Y Guell Rivet to replace Hubbard. Ian Robinson, former group business risk director, will take over for Rivet as group finance and risk director.

Cliff will not be directly replaced. Instead the senior team working under him will now report directly to Rivet. Cliff has taken on a new role of managing director of Fortis. He will report to UK chief executive Barry Smith.

Smith said he was delighted with Cliff’s appointment and expected him to take up the role in or around October, after a period of gardening leave. He added that discussions with Cliff had been happening for some months, and that he was not aware of any connection with Hubbard’s departure.

“He was in that position a lot longer than the average chief executive would spend with that size of company. I think it was just his time.

Senior market source

In a memo to staff, Moreau credited Hubbard for leading AXA through a very difficult financial period when he took the reins in 2001. The memo said: “Supported by his management team and employees, Hubbard has steered the insurance business through a period of organic and acquisition fuelled growth against a backdrop of often challenging market conditions.”

Moreau told his staff however, that the changes would help build on AXA’s strong footing: “I want to assure you that I firmly believe these changes will make AXA an even stronger player in the market and better place to work.”

Market speculation suggested that the timing of Hubbard’s departure may have been linked to the recent release of AXA’s 2007 results, which showed growth of just 1.4% in the company’s commercial business.

AXA has also suffered recently from problems with its service, causing frustration among brokers. In recent research conducted by Insurance Times’ parent company Newsquest Specialist Media, AXA was ranked lowest out of 14 leading insures for the service it provides.

Earlier this year, Hubbard admitted to Insurance Times that service had been suffering, but said he had implemented a number of changes that would get things running smoothly again.

One source close to Hubbard said it would be wrong to look at the recent problems and dismiss what was a very successful career.

"He is a very clever guy," the source said. "He was in that position a lot longer than the average chief executive would spend with that size of company. I think it was just his time."