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(Reuters) — Italy's biggest insurer, Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A., is looking to pick a new chief executive by mid-February to replace Mario Greco, who is leaving for rival Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., a source close to the matter said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Zurich said it had poached Mr. Greco from Generali in a move it hopes will revive its fortunes. He will start as CEO on May 1.
"The aim is to make a decision quickly, by the middle of February," the source said.
Generali declined to comment.
Analysts on a conference call with Mr. Greco on Wednesday told Reuters the CEO had spoken of differences of opinion with some shareholders about his future role at Generali.
But in a later statement, Generali said Mr. Greco had told the analysts his departure had nothing to do with criticism or conflict with any investors over strategy.
"(Shareholders have) always supported the strategy and its execution over the last three years," the insurer said.
Speculation that Mr. Greco might move to Zurich has been bubbling since mid-December. He ran the Swiss company's main general insurance business before joining Generali in August 2012.
The 56-year-old executive, who started his career at consultancy McKinsey & Co., is widely seen as the engineer of the rapid turnaround at Generali, Europe's third-biggest insurer, which saw its shares almost double between his arrival in August 2012 and the end of 2015.
During his watch, he has simplified and streamlined the group by selling assets worth €4 billion ($4.32 billion), cutting costs and beefing up capital ready for tougher European solvency rules.
On Wednesday, Mr. Greco told the analysts financial results in 2015 would be good, adding the company was on track to meet its 2018 financial targets.
These include cumulative dividends of more than €5 billion ($5.4 billion), net free cash flow of more than €7 billion ($7.56 billion) and cost savings of €1.5 billion ($1.62 billion) in 2012-2018.
"It was Greco who led the successful turnaround ... his departure could lead to a meaningful overhang for the stock, which could therefore de-rate from peers," JCI Capital analyst Emanuele Rigamonti said.
Generali shares closed down 1.3%, while the European insurance index was up 0.3%.
People familiar with the matter said Generali's Italian head, Philippe Donnet, group Chief Financial Officer Alberto Minali and German head Giovanni Liverani were among possible internal successors to Mr. Greco.
External candidates tipped for the job are former CEO Sergio Balbinot and CIR CEO Monica Mondardini, the people said.
(Reuters) — Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. has poached Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. CEO Mario Greco in a move the Swiss insurer hopes will revive its fortunes and which leaves its Italian rival searching for a worthy successor.