Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Tidjane Thiam: A life story

By John James
BBC News, Ivory Coast

Tidjane Thiam
Tidjane Thiam was named the second most influential black Briton in 2008

The insurance industry might not be the most glamorous trade, but in Tidjane Thiam it has found a chief executive with an unusual history.

He was born in the Ivory Coast to a father who worked as a journalist and diplomat, and was jailed as a political prisoner.

Having studied in France and working initially in management consultancy, Mr Thiam returned to the Ivory Coast in the 1990s and to a country whose economy was rapidly becoming a disaster after decades of success.

He was not in the country when a coup d'état overthrew the president in 1999, but on his return was put under house arrest.

Following the coup, the country fell into a political crisis and a civil war from which it is only just emerging.

As for Mr Thiam, he returned to consultancy in France and later went into the insurance business in 2002, first with Aviva and then Prudential where he has served as financial director for the past year.

He has also worked as a commissioner on Tony Blair's Africa Commission, which sought ways to boost development.

Reacting to making UK corporate history, he has said he finds it especially odd considering he is a product of the French education system and not a native English speaker.

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