LONDON (Reuters) - Aviva Plc (AV.L) named Mark Wilson, a former head of Asian rival AIA Group Ltd (1299.HK), as chief executive six months after investors unhappy with the British insurer's weak share price forced out his predecessor.
Wilson, credited with steering AIA through the financial crisis and preparing it for a 2010 stock market listing, inherits the task of shedding Aviva's underperforming units to boost profit and revitalise its flagging stock.
New Zealand-born Wilson, 46, will take over the top job at Aviva on January 1, Britain's No.2 insurer said on Tuesday. He succeeds Andrew Moss, who quit in May.
Some analysts said Wilson was well-qualified to lead Europe-focused Aviva even though his 25-year career has been spent almost entirely in Asia.
"He's a well-respected guy, although the issues with turning around a European insurer are a bit different to growing an Asian one," said analyst Barnard Marcus at brokerage Oriel Securities. "This ends uncertainty and means the company can move forward."
Aviva shares were 0.8 percent higher at 1445 GMT, outperforming the FTSE 100 .FTSE which was down 0.2 percent.
The stock, which fell 60 percent during Moss's five-year tenure, has risen 11 percent since the start of the year, still lagging a 25 percent increase in the STOXX Europe 600 insurance index .SXIP.
Aviva relies on the troubled eurozone for about 40 percent of its profit - far more than its main British rivals Prudential Plc, Legal & General Group Plc (LGEN.L) and Standard Life Plc (SL.L) which have little or no significant euro exposure - and some investors have seen its exposure to the region as a threat to its capital strength.
Aviva Chairman John McFarlane, in charge of the group since Moss's departure, in July launched a reorganisation based on selling 16 units that tie up over a third of its capital while contributing just 18 percent of operating profit.
"It's probably helpful that nobody knows Wilson that well because it means his arrival won't be prejudiced," said Investec analyst Kevin Ryan.
"Given that McFarlane has set out the path to be travelled down, it takes the pressure of the CEO to come up with his own ideas."
Wilson will be paid a basic annual salary of 980,000 pounds and is in line for a performance-related bonus next year of up to 1.5 million pounds, of which two thirds must be deferred and paid in shares.
"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," Wilson said in a statement.
Analysts questioned whether Aviva finance chief Pat Regan, who had been seen as the leading internal candidate for the chief executive role, would stay on under Wilson.