-- CEO Moss to leave with immediate effect
-- Moss' departure follows row with investors over pay
-- Chairman-Designate John McFarlane will become interim executive deputy chairman
-- Potential successors include CFO Pat Regan, UK head Trevor Matthews, former Europe head Igal Mayer
(Adds detail on severance pay in paragraph 6.)
By Jessica Hodgson and Vladimir Guevarra
British insurance group Aviva PLC (AV.LN) unexpectedly said Tuesday that Chief Executive Officer Andrew Moss would stand down with immediate effect, the latest U.K. CEO to leave amid investor anger over pay.
Moss is the third U.K. CEO to stand down in recent weeks as a shareholder rebellion over the gap between corporate performance and pay gathers pace. Last week, the chief executives of AstraZeneca PLC (>> AstraZeneca plc) and Trinity Mirror PLC (>> Trinity Mirror plc) also quit after investors challenged their pay.
Moss' departure may appease rebellious shareholders, but it also leaves a big question mark over the company's immediate future, its next CEO and its growth strategy, analysts said.
Moss' departure comes shortly after investors in Aviva rejected the group's remuneration report--and Moss' GBP2.69 million pay packet--only the fourth time this has happened to a FTSE 100 company, and following a failed attempt by the company to contain the concerns of investors through a review of its pay policy.
At 1315 GMT, Aviva shares were up 8 pence, or 2.8%, at 311 pence.
As severance pay, Aviva said in a separate statement late Tuesday that Moss will receive around GBP1.75 million, which includes a 12-month salary, contribution to his pension, a lump-sum settlement, and 75% of the shares awarded to him in 2009. This means 25% of the shares awarded to him in 2009, and all the shares awarded in 2010 and 2011 will lapse.
Roughly 54% of shareholders opposed Aviva's 2011 pay report in a nonbinding vote last week, at a time of an increasing and more vociferous backlash against what many consider excessive executive pay in the U.K. financial sector.
Aviva said Tuesday that Chairman-Designate John McFarlane would become interim executive deputy chairman with immediate effect and executive chairman from July 1, pending the appointment of a new chief executive.
Aviva's chairman, Colin Sharman, said Tuesday that Moss had approached him with the decision that he felt it was in the best interests of the company for him to step aside.
"We should acknowledge the progress that has been achieved under Andrew Moss' leadership," Sharman said in a statement.
"Through the global financial crisis, he led the consolidation of our international presence and the integration of 40 brands into the very powerful single Aviva brand. He reduced the cost base, improved operational performance and more recently began the implementation of the strategic focus, with the sale of RAC, the deconsolidation of Delta Lloyd and a number of overseas disposals."
Nevertheless, Sharman said that McFarlane would undertake a review of Aviva's business to make sure it was in the right business segments and markets.
A spokesman for the company Tuesday declined to provide further details of the review, and said Moss and other executives weren't being made available for comment.
Oriel Securities, which rates Aviva buy, said Tuesday that while Moss' tenure at Aviva had been characterized by "efficiency," he had failed to galvanize top line growth or boost share price performance, and that he had at times been regarded by shareholders as "out of touch."
Shore Capital, which also rates Aviva buy, said that the hiatus in leadership could leave the group vulnerable to either takeover or breakup.
Analysts said Aviva would have to hire a new top-quality successor to Moss sooner rather than later to settle questions about the company's immediate future.
Some said the potential candidates include current Chief Financial Officer Pat Regan; Trevor Matthews, who heads the U.K. operations; as well as Igal Mayer, the well-regarded former head of European operations, who ironically left the company recently because of a rejig of top management.
Unite, the U.K. union that represents staff at Aviva across the U.K. and Ireland, said: "Today's announcement of the departure of Andrew Moss is a welcome and important step on the road to curbing greed in the boardrooms of the financial services sector."
Aviva said a week ago that it would review its remuneration policy and that Moss had turned down a proposed 2012 salary increase of 4.8%. His 2011 pay packet was up 8.5% from GBP2.47 million in 2010.
Two major shareholder bodies had previously raised concerns about Aviva's pay.
Pensions & Investment Research Consultants, a shareholder advisory service, recommended that its members vote against the remuneration report. The influential Association of British Insurers, whose members control roughly 12% of the U.K. stock market and which is supporting the government's proposal to make a say on pay binding, asked investors to consider carefully their vote on Aviva executive pay but said it wasn't offering guidance on how shareholders should vote.
Meanwhile, shareholders in U.K. bookmaker William Hill PLC (>> William Hill plc) Tuesday also voiced their concerns over plans to award a GBP1.2 million retention bonus to CEO Ralph Topping, with just under 50% voting against the resolution. Topping, who joined William Hill nearly 40 years ago and became chief executive in 2008, will now receive annual pay in excess of GBP1.7 million and stay at the company until at least December 2013.
"Whilst we recognize that some shareholders are not supportive of this one-off agreement, we believe that there is widespread appreciation of the very significant contribution of Ralph Topping to the success of William Hill," Chairman Gareth Davis said.
- By Jessica Hodgson; Dow Jones Newswires; +44207 8429373; email@example.com.
(Marietta Cauchi contributed to this article.)