Tidjane Thiam: from Paris with love

PRUDENTIAL boss Tidjane Thiam sent a pretty overt message to his French countrymen when he accepted his Grand Prix de l’Economie award last week.

Facing a packed Parisian audience (which included Christine Lagarde), Tidjane – a graduate of France’s top universities – chose to extol the UK’s business practices, describing the UK as having a “unique openness” to foreigners and praising the government for its meetings with business advisers – including the many non-British CEOs that run some of the country’s biggest firms.

“Such openness, right up to the highest levels of government is unique – at least as far as I am aware – in the countries where I have lived,” he said, in a not very subtle dig at France. Thiam then went on to explain how he ended up on the other side of the channel.

“I did not go to London, or to the UK, rather it was the UK that came to me,” he explained.

“I was approached by an insurance company that was looking to internationalise … To achieve this, the best solution was to recruit someone with an international profile, irrespective of their origins or nationality,” he added, paying tribute to Aviva (though, interestingly, he added that he eventually had to leave because he realised he would never rise to the top, regardless of what he did – and thus joined Prudential).

Though a diplomatic Thiam insisted he would “never say that France should become like the UK”, we’d wager his speech went down like a ton of briques.