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Former Aviva boss honoured by The University of Manchester

25 Jul 2008

The former CEO of insurance giant Aviva has been awarded The University of Manchester’s Outstanding Alumnus Award for 2008.

Until last year, Richard Harvey headed one of the UK’s largest companies and the world’s fifth biggest insurer.

But in a move that stunned the industry, the 56-year-old gave up his high powered and successful job to spend a year working in Africa with some of the poorest, most deprived people on the planet.

Now Mr Harvey, who recently returned from stints in Malawi and Kenya, has been honoured with The University of Manchester Alumni Association’s Outstanding Alumnus Award.

The Award is presented each year to alumni who have achieved distinction in their profession, through exemplary service to the University or the wider community, or through outstanding service of a personal or humanitarian nature.

Mr Harvey received a special medal at a summer graduation ceremony.

The son of a Cotswolds teacher, Mr Harvey graduated from The University of Manchester in 1971 with an honours degree in mathematics. His degree was sponsored by the Atomic Energy Authority, who promised him a job at the end of the course. But the changing economics of the nuclear industry at the time meant that this never materialised.

Instead he moved into insurance, working his way through the ranks and by 1992 he was chief executive of Norwich Union New Zealand.

Six years later, Mr Harvey became chief executive of Norwich Union plc and, after steering the company though a merger with its biggest UK rival, CGU, he became chief executive of the merged company, subsequently re-named Aviva, in 2000.

In January 2007, he stunned the industry by resigning from his job and signed up to spend a year in Africa working for Concern Universal (, a charity that aims to improve the lives of people in some of the world’s poorest communities.

A few months later, Mr Harvey flew out to Kenya with his wife Kay to begin the first leg of a programme of front-line charitable work that also took him to Mozambique and Malawi.

While in Africa, he has been involved first-hand with everything from education to agriculture to HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.

Mr Harvey plans to continue working to ensure that money sent by charitable foundations actually filters down to where it is most needed – among the people and communities of some of the world’s most deprived areas.  

Professor Paul Glendinning, Head of The School of Mathematics, said: “Richard graduated from Manchester in 1971 and used this experience to help carve out a stunningly successful career in the insurance business.

“Last year he resigned from this post to spend a year working for a charity in Africa, and I am sure this is just the beginning of a path supporting sustainable projects in Africa and elsewhere. He epitomises two of the attributes we hope to engender in our graduates: excellence in their chosen career together with social responsibility and leadership.

“His achievements are inspirational, and he is undoubtedly an example to us all. We are very proud to call him a graduate of The University of Manchester.”

The School of Mathematics at The University of Manchester is one of the largest schools of mathematics in the UK, with more than 1000 undergraduates, 150 postgraduate and 90 academic staff.

The School recently launched a BSc in Actuarial Science and Mathematics and also offers an MSc in Mathematical Finance.