Tidjane Thiam, Group Chief Executive, Prudential plc, London, UK, from Ivory Coast

Born in the Ivory Coast in 1962, Tidjane’s family moved to France when he was four. Tidjane graduated from the École Polytechnique in Paris with a degree in Engineering and completed a degree in Civil Engineering at the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris in 1986.

“Up to this point I had been educated in a very French context and was heading for a career in teaching and research. But I wanted to be more open to the world. INSEAD offered me a unique opportunity to get to know people from different cultures and backgrounds and it was INSEAD’s reputation for excellence that appealed to me - I wanted to learn from what I considered to be the best.”

Tidjane went to INSEAD on a McKinsey scholarship, called ’The McKinsey Fellows Programme’. The Programme awarded two scholarships every year to graduates from top French scientific schools to give them a business education. “I was the third McKinsey fellow in the programme after Eric Labaye, who now runs McKinsey France, and Catherine Lucet, who is now Chairman of Editions Nathan.”

Although he found INSEAD very intense, Tidjane considered himself fortunate to have been through the French education system that had prepared him well for the long hours required. “I had a great time at INSEAD and being part of The McKinsey Fellows programme contributed to that. I got to know twice as many people as any other INSEAD graduate.”

The McKinsey Fellows Programme lasted two years and comprised four semesters. The first semester was based at McKinsey as a junior consultant; this was followed by six months at INSEAD where the student did the first half of their MBA with one class. They then returned to McKinsey for another six months as a consultant, before going back to INSEAD for the final six months to complete their MBA with a second, and different, class. The McKinsey Fellows therefore had the privilege of studying with two INSEAD classes.

“My fondest memories are of the intellectual stimulation and the very strong friendships I made with people from around the world - many of whom I have stayed friends with and who I am in regular contact with more than 20 years later.”

“My time at INSEAD broadened my horizons enormously. I knew I would benefit from doing an MBA. The international nature of INSEAD was also important - there was huge diversity in my class with more than 30 nationalities represented and I believe it is still the most international business school in the world. My experiences at INSEAD still influence my career and the choices I make to this day.”

After INSEAD Tidjane went back to McKinsey in Paris and was put in charge of the Fellows programme. “By the time I left the company we had put more than 100 people from across Europe through it.” Tidjane was set to make partner in his early 30s, but in 1993 he returned to the Ivory Coast, at the request of the President Henri Konan Bédié, to head up the National Bureau for Technical Studies and Development, an independent adviser to the Government on investment projects, before becoming Minister for Development. But in December 1999 the Ivory Coast suffered a coup and Tidjane was placed under house arrest after returning to the country to ensure the safety of his team. The new military leadership offered him the role of chief of staff, but by then Tidjane had decided to return to McKinsey in Paris.

At McKinsey, Tidjane was a leader in the financial institutions practice focusing on insurance companies and banks, when in 2002, he was headhunted to join Aviva as Group Strategy Director. He worked his way up at Aviva and five years later was appointed Chief Executive for Aviva Europe. In 2007 he was poached by Prudential plc to become Chief Financial Officer, before taking up the role of Group Chief Executive at the 160 year old international insurer in October 2009.

“My proudest accomplishments are every situation I have been in where I have seen people achieve more than they thought they could do and feeling that, in a small way, I have contributed to making them feel more confident and capable of dealing with the challenges life presents them with. I am also very proud of my two sons, who are both very different, but wonderful, and I feel enormously privileged to have been appointed as Group Chief Executive of Prudential.”

Tidjane’s ambitions for the future are to build on the success of Prudential and he is looking forward to watching his sons continue to grow and develop their own lives and careers.

Tidjane was recently named the second-most influential black person in Britain. He was one of the Davos World Economic Forum's "dream cabinet" and has been a member of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa.