British insurer Prudential's top bosses sought to ease shareholder anger over its botched bid for U.S. group AIG's Asian unit, publishing bumper sales and apologizing for the misadventure's hefty cost.
But Prudential defended the $35.5 billion offer for American International Assurance, which would have made it Asia's largest foreign-owned insurer.
We remain convinced we were right to pursue this business opportunity. We feel it was a risk in proportion to the advantage we would have gained, Chairman Harvey McGrath told several hundred shareholders gathered in London on Monday.
Prudential was facing many of its investors for the first time since the Asian takeover bid was pulled last week after a tortuous process that cost 450 million pounds ($650 million).
We believe that however regrettable, it was right to pull out. Please believe... how sorry we are that we incurred costs, only to see the deal fall at the final hurdle, McGrath said,
Earlier, the insurer published a 28 percent jump in sales during April and May, ahead of 26 percent growth reported in the first quarter -- numbers it said demonstrated the business remained on track despite the Asian distraction.
The group said its strategy remained unchanged.
Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam, whose reputation has been dealt a body blow by discussions around the Asian bid, used his opening remarks at the meeting to apologize.
I know that some of our, my actions put a considerable strain on relations with shareholders. I very much regret that, he said. I have two tasks now -- to take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us and start the process of restoring your confidence, I will to do this as long as you wish for me to be your chief executive.
Ahead of Monday's rescheduled annual general meeting -- originally intended as the meeting for shareholders to approve the Asian takeover -- many expressed their discontent.
But both small and large investors were divided on whether Thiam, a high flying former executive at rival Aviva, should step down over the failed deal.
It's absolutely appalling -- giving away half a billion pounds doesn't seem to me like good business sense. I can't see how their jobs are tenable, private investor Colin Sains said ahead of the meeting. I think the problem has been the inexperience of the chief executive.
Thiam has faced demands for his head from top shareholders including British asset manager Schroders.
But Euan Stirling, investment director at Standard Life Investments, the 17th largest shareholder in Prudential, told BBC radio Thiam should stay.
We look to the future and would it serve our interest best if there were removals of senior executives from the top of the company? I don't think that is the case.
The insurer said its strategy of pursuing capital-efficient growth with a focus on Asia was intact despite the failed bid.
A takeover of AIA, which would have ranked as the insurance sector's largest ever and would have given Britain's largest insurer a commanding position in one of the world's fastest growing financial services markets.
Prudential was forced to ditch the bid last week after its shareholders baulked at the price tag.
At the weekend, the company denied a press report that it planned to resurrect the deal before the end of the year.
(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)
(Additional reporting by Raji Menon; Writing by Clara Ferreira-Marques and Myles Neligan; Editing by Andrew Callus)
($1 = 0.6831 pound)