Hong Kong's Richard Li to tap ex-AIA deputy as new insurance CEO: sources

HONG KONG Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:07am EDT

Richard Li, the president and chief executive of Pacific Century Group, participates in the ''A Conversation With Richard Li of Pacific Century Group: An Eastern Investor Turns West'' panel at the 2010 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Richard Li, the president and chief executive of Pacific Century Group, participates in the ''A Conversation With Richard Li of Pacific Century Group: An Eastern Investor Turns West'' panel at the 2010 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California April 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Phil McCarten

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong businessman Richard Li, the youngest son of Asia's richest man, will appoint a former top executive at AIA Group Ltd as the CEO of his new insurance company, according to people with direct knowledge of the move.

Li will hire Huynh Thanh Phong, previously one of three deputies to AIA (1299.HK) CEO Mark Tucker, to run the upstart insurer, known as FWD. Before AIA, Phong worked at British insurer Prudential Plc (PRU.L) and Temasek Holding's TEM.UL Fullerton Financial Holdings.

Li is coming back to the Asian insurance industry after selling a Hong Kong insurance company he controlled to Fortis in 2007. Last October, Li paid $2.14 billion in cash for ING's Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand insurance operations, his first step in returning to Asia's fast-growing insurance industry.

Phong left AIA in April, the company announced at the time. Karin Wong, a spokeswoman for FWD, said the company has not yet appointed a CEO.

People familiar with the matter said Phong's hiring bolsters Li's effort to take on some of the biggest players in the industry, which are jockeying to expand into one of the fastest-growing insurance sectors in the world.

Key recent hires by Li include Zurich Insurance Group AG's (ZURN.VX) Julian Lipman, who was named regional Chief Operating Officer of Li's FWD; Manulife Financial Corp's (MFC.TO) David Wong, who was hired to a top Greater China role; and Mike Plaxton from AXA (AXAF.PA), who is CEO for Thailand. Lennard Yong, who came over from ING Groep NV (ING.AS), is serving as Li's regional Chief Commercial Officer.

Since acquiring the ING insurance piece, Li has forged ahead with expanding the business and is among the suitors short-listed to buy a 70 percent stake in Malaysian lender AMMB Holdings Bhd's (AMMB.KL) life insurance business.

Southeast Asia has been a hot spot for insurance industry growth. Rising personal incomes and the industry's strong growth potential has spurred Asia-Pacific insurance M&A to a record of $30.5 billion last year, driven by deals in Thailand and Malaysia.

Li's father is billionaire businessman Li Ka-shing. The family's empire spans property, ports, power, water, supermarkets, drug stores and is spread across 52 countries.

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin and Denny Thomas in HONG KONG. Additional reporting by Khettiya Jittapong in BANGKOK; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Chris Gallagher)

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