Tidjane Thiam - pronounced Tee-jarn Ti-arm - was born in Ivory Coast, Africa but was raised and educated in France. He holds a master's degree in business administration from France's prestigious INSEAD business school.
His first exposure to the world of insurance came at McKinsey & Company in Paris and New York. The company is an adviser to many of the world's most influential businesses and institutions and Thiam cut his teeth working with both insurance companies and banks.
Thiam had two spells at McKinsey, which bookmarked his time working in his native Ivory Coast. Working for the country's government, he climbed to the post of minister of planning and development before returning to Paris. Staying with insurance, Thiam then took a leading role at the British multinational insurance company Aviva from 2002 until 2008.
Onlookers cite this background in insurance and wealth management as the main driver behind his appointment at Credit Suisse. Shares in the Swiss bank surged 7.5 percent at the session open on Tuesday.
Thiam's appointment is a political move, according to Christopher Wheeler, an analyst at Atlantic Equities in London. With many investment banks desperate for an image change after years of hefty fines, Wheeler said the Swiss lender has made the right choice in Thiam, as it looks to appease anxious Swiss authorities.
Chris Skinner, CEO of advisory firm Balatro, said Thiam was a "transformer" with a proven track record in building and guiding companies in new directions.
Thiam joined Pru as its chief financial officer in 2008, before being appointed group chief executive a year afterwards. The London-based international financial services group has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Many see Thiam as having driven growth in these markets and expect his experience and connections to transfer well to Credit Suisse.
Wheeler called it an "innovative" appointment, especially given his geographic knowledge. He added that Thiam "understands Asia" and would be able to promote the savings and wealth management operations of Credit Suisse into these markets.
Outgoing CEO Brady Dougan said he had "tremendous respect" for his successor, in a press release alongside the announcement. Prudential shares slipped around 3 percent at the session opened Tuesday, but analysts weren't ringing the death knell for the insurance company, which has seen its shares rise around 150 percent during Thiam's tenure.
"The Prudential organization is large and driven by relatively autonomous units in the U.K., U.S. and Asia and hence while Thiam was instrumental to the healthy development of Prudential in the last few years, we view his departure as Neutral to the credit risk profile of Prudential," Rafael Villarreal, a credit specialist at BNP Paribas, said in a research note Tuesday.
It hasn't all been plain sailing for Thiam at Prudential, however. He made his name pushing through large deals while at the helm of the company, but a plan to buy Asian insurer AIA from the U.S. insurance giant American International Group (AIG) proved a step too far.
AIG had to be bailed out by the U.S. government following the 2008 financial crisis. Thiam saw an opportunity to buy some of its assets but negotiations on the price of the deal ended in failure in June, 2010. The Financial Times even reported at the time that the disappointment piled pressure on Thiam to resign as Prudential CEO.
Thiam, who is married with two adult children and speaks English, French, and German, is a dual citizen of France and the Ivory Coast.