The chair of Aviva has said he was left “flabbergasted” by a barrage of “inappropriate” comments targeted towards female board members at Aviva’s annual general meeting (AGM) this week.
The Aviva chair hit out at shareholders, after investors subjected female company executives, including Aviva chief Amanda Blanc, to a barrage of sexist comments on Monday, at the company’s first in-person AGM since the start of the pandemic.
The AGM saw one investor suggest Blanc – who joined Aviva in July 2020 as the insurer’s first female chief executive – was “not the man for the job”. Another shareholder asked whether Blanc should be “wearing trousers,” as he made reference to Blanc’s predecessors at the firm.
Another small investor, after congratulating the board for its high levels of gender diversity, said: “They are so good at basic housekeeping activities, I’m sure this will be reflected in the direction of the board in future.”
On conclusion of Aviva’s AGM, company chairman George Culmer hit back at the outspoken shareholders as he slammed the “inappropriate” comments that had been made.
“I’m not going to say thank you to everyone for your comments, because I think there were some comments in that session that were simply inappropriate and I do not expect and would [not] want to hear at any future AGM. I’m flabbergasted, to be honest,” Culmer said.
The spat comes after Blanc vowed to give £4.75bn back to shareholders, after facing pressure from Swedish activist fund Cevian.
The Carl Icahn-backed fund had previously called on Aviva to cut costs and hand back £5bn to shareholders, after it upped its stake in Aviva to more than six per cent.
Shares in Aviva have increased by more than 40 per cent under Blanc’s leadership to reach a total market capitalization of £15.4bn, compared to a valuation of around £11bn when Blanc first joined.
The incident comes after Aviva raised £7.5bn by selling off eight non-core businesses over the past financial year.
Insurance industry veteran Blanc also denied claims Aviva is planning to launch a Lloyd’s of London style syndicate, but said the firm was “looking at all distribution channels”.