Tidjane Thiam: the man who traded politics for finance after military coup

After being forced to flee his native Ivory Coast after a military coup in 1999, Tidjane Thiam traded politics for financial services, becoming one of the most successful executives of his generation.

The fervent Arsenal supporter came to prominence in the UK when he was named as the head of Prudential in 2009, making him the first black chief executive of a major British company.

In an almost six-year stint he more than doubled Prudential’s profits and tripled its share price, cementing his place as one of the top bosses in the FTSE 100. The success of the company allowed him to weather the fallout of a botched attempt at a $36bn (£24bn) takeover of AIA, the Asian arm of the US insurer AIG, only a few months into his tenure. But in 2013, Thiam became the first FTSE 100 chief executive to be personally censured by the city regulator for not being “open” about the planned takeover. Prudential was fined £30m.

Two years later, when the news emerged that Thiam was moving to Credit Suisse, the ailing bank’s share price rose almost 7%, while Prudential’s stock fell 3%.

Now 57, Thiam was born into a middle-class family in Ivory Coast. He was mostly educated in France, where he graduated top of the class from the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris, which produces many of the country’s political and business elite.

After a stint in his 20s at the consultancy firm McKinsey, he joined the World Bank and then moved back to Ivory Coast, where he became a government minister. After spending several weeks under house arrest during a military coup and turning down a job with the new regime, he left the country in early 2000.

“I had no job, no career, nothing at all … If you’ve been in a situation where you have nothing, there’s nothing much you’re afraid of,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2012.


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