Communications professional of the year 2015 Article icon

Communications

Group communications director

Aviva

When Nigel Prideaux was a young partner at fi nancial PR agency Brunswick, one of his earliest clients passed on some wisdom: It’s nice to be nice to people. It is advice that Prideaux, now group communications director at Aviva, the FTSE 100 insurance company, has taken to heart.

Today, Prideaux manages a team that has been at the heart of Aviva’s turnaround story under new chief executive Mike Wilson and former chairman John McFarlane, who is now bashing heads at Barclays.

This year, the team managed the successful £5.6 billion acquisition of FTSE 100 rival Friends Life internally. It is testament to Prideaux’s confi dence in the team he has built, that he only brought in external support towards the end of the process. On the first day of trading, theshares were among the best performing in the stock-market index.

Three years ago, Aviva’s external reputation had been hit by poor performance, a complex governance structure and public mistrust of fi nancial services. Costs were slashed and headcount cut, including around half the members of the communications team. Morale was knocked and employee engagement scores were poor.

Prideaux took the opportunity to rebuild and restructure his team, blending disparate divisions into one unit acting across both internal and external communications and multiple markets, but also to stamp his mark on the way they would manage communications for Aviva.

His overriding principle is that Aviva does the right thing rather than saying the right thing. This means that managing risk is at the centre of his strategy. Rather than spend time fire fighting issues in a public arena, Prideaux works with business units to identify potential risks early in the process and then looks to solve the problem at source.

Those who nominated Prideaux suggested he could have been a contender for In-House Professional of the Year in any of the past three years. He has managed tricky governance issues, handled the departure of former chief executive Andrew Moss, after more than half Aviva’s shareholders voted against his remuneration, and overseen a smooth transition as Wilson took the reins from McFarlane.

He has worked hard to articulate the values of Aviva, ensuring that his team clearly communicates them internally, as they work to rebuild the reputation of the insurance business from the inside out.

His team members describe Prideaux as ‘supportive and friendly’, and there is huge internal respect across the business for what he has achieved. One external supporter said: ‘He runs his internal communications team like a big agency, and closely allies what he does with the commercial functions and regulatory needs.’

Colleagues and supporters say Prideaux shuns the spotlight, and hates attention to be drawn to his contribution. ‘He might seem invisible,’ said one, ‘but those in the media who know who to trust would put him up there. He has no enemies and, while his chief executive and the company shines, then that is a job well done as far as he is concerned.’