RUTH SUNDERLAND: Break the City boys’ club by looking harder at the female candidates
Shriti Vadera is an inspired choice to chair the Prudential. This is not merely because she is female and of Asian origin, so she therefore ticks the ‘diversity’ boxes.
Regardless of gender or ethnicity, which to her credit she has never played upon, she is one of the best operators in the City.
Like many women of her generation, who started out in the Eighties when ‘woke’ was what happened when you got up in the morning, she needed to be much better than the men to reach the top.
Significant appointment: Shriti Vadera is an inspired choice to chair the Prudential
Vadera was a strong candidate to take over from Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England and would have been the first woman to have occupied that role.
In the end, she lost to Andrew Bailey. The leading insider, he was always a hard man to beat. The Old Lady’s loss is Pru’s gain.
Still only in her fifties, Vadera has plenty of time and my prediction is that she could well bag the Governor’s job after Bailey. You read it here first. The Bank job has eluded her for now, but she remains the first and so far the only woman to chair a large British bank, Santander UK, an offshoot of the Spanish giant.
It is not a bad moment to extricate herself from that one. Santander, which has an army of small British shareholders after swallowing Abbey and Alliance & Leicester, is struggling.
Profits in the UK fell by more than a third last year and its treatment of customers is under scrutiny after it cut interest rates on its once popular 123 current account. She has been supportive of Nathan Bostock, the chief executive, but he has been a letdown and was last week running shy of media questions on his performance.
As well as a deep grounding in finance –Vadera started her career as an investment banker with SG Warburg – she has plenty of international experience and exposure to high level politics.
She is best known, of course, during her time as a minister in Gordon Brown’s government, for being one of the small group of people who rescued the country from the banks at the time of the financial crisis.
Hher arrival at the Pru comes at an interesting juncture for the insurance giant. It has recently demerged from its UK asset management operation, M&G, and has no operations left in this country, just a share quote on the London market and an HQ.
The Pru’s business is concentrated in fast-growing but volatile Asian economies, where Vadera’s experience, including advisory roles to Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek and to the Korean presidency of the G20, will come in handy.
The insurer also has a sizeable operation in the slower growth US. One big decision facing her is whether to spin that off. She will also determine the future of the company’s affable chief executive, Mike Wells.
Her appointment is significant beyond the Prudential because it adds to the pitifully small number of chairwomen.
Our sister paper the Mail on Sunday reported in the summer that there are more men called Michael chairing Footsie firms than there are women.
This is just ludicrous, particularly as several of the male incumbents have chairmanships at more than one blue chip company.
There can’t possibly be such a dire shortage of talent that the headhunters can’t find a hundred people to chair our leading businesses and are forced to double up.
This speaks of a lack of imagination and an old boys’ club. Fortunately there is an easy way to change it, which is to look harder at the female candidates.