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Skeoch needs to be twice the man for dual role

Terry MurdenStandard Life had given no hints about a replacement for Keith Skeoch as head of its asset management business since it announced last month that he was stepping up to replace David Nish at the helm of the group. Even so, it came as a bit of jolt when the new boss revealed in a conference call yesterday that the company was in no hurry to find a successor to run the £302 billion asset management division.

Mr Skeoch takes over today from Mr Nish whose nine years at the company was brought to an abrupt halt when chairman Sir Gerry Grimstone decided it was time for change.

A source close to the company told Daily Business a few weeks ago that one of the new man’s tasks will be rebuilding the ‘team’. It was interesting that Mr Skeoch chose to refer to the strong team he has behind him as justification for not appointing someone to replace him at SLI.

It may be the ultimate accolade for Mr Skeoch that he is so highly regarded he can do both jobs. However, while SLI is not necessarily the cart pulling the horse, it is the main force driving Standard Life, more so now that the annuities business has taken a hit following the recent pension reforms. It is no coincidence that Mr Nish was eager to re-badge it from being an insurer to a savings and investments manager.

SLI has grown enormously since being created as an arm’s length business in the late 1990s. This is also feeding market gossip about the group’s future. There is some loose talk in the City that US companies are sniffing around the UK life sector and Standard Life, slightly weakened by the slump in sales of annuities, is among those potential targets being mentioned.

Mr Skeoch has earned his spurs at SLI and deserves his crack at the top job. But he could have his work cut out.

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