Son of a military officer, the founder of the Sunu insurance group, who died on January 12, 2023 in Paris, France, of illness, had initially chosen to teach mathematics. Later, he became an exceptional manager in the insurance industry.
By Bernard Bangda
The African insurance world is groggy. One of its mastodons has just passed away. Pathé Dione, the founder of Sunu, the first life insurance group in West Africa, died in Paris, France, on January 12, 2023 after suffering from illness.
“Very organized and methodical”
This son of a soldier in the French Army (before Senegal’s independence) was born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1941.
This has always, and certainly, earned him the title of “austere leader”. He was also described as “very organized and methodical”. “These are the traits of his initial and rigorous training in mathematics,” says one of his close friends. After his primary and secondary education in the country, Pathé Dione, who was never without his pipe, flew to France to pursue his higher education. In 1966, he began teaching mathematics. Until 1972 when he joined the insurance company Mutuelles du Mans. After a five-year professional stay in Chad, he decided to resume his studies in economics at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University. Pathé Dione obtained a master’s degree and DEA. In 1980, he obtained a doctorate in economics at the Sorbonne University.
After attending the National Insurance School and the Center of Higher Insurance Studies in Paris, the crucible of senior executives, in 1979 he landed a job with the American Company named Cigna Corporation. In 1980, he was assigned to Côte d’Ivoire with the mission of establishing a subsidiary, Colina. Today, Colina is Sunu’s main competitor in its African market. In 1984, he was promoted to the position of Director for Africa at the Union des Assurances de Paris (UAP) until its absorption by AXA in 1997.
Claude Bébéar, the mentor
Tired of working for others, and in search of new motivations, Pathé Dione decided in 1998 to create Sunu (meaning “Our” in Wolof). He was assisted in this pan-African Group project by former employees who believed in him and his experience in the insurance industry.
His meeting with Claude Bébéar was a milestone in his career. Pathé Dione used to describe ‘this extraordinary man I came across’ as ‘the one who showed a certain recognition for the work [I had] done’. It was Claude Bébéar who encouraged him to create Sunu after he realized that ‘Africa was not one of Axa’s priorities, as they had their sights set mainly on Asia’. The idea was to “create a new company that would take over the African subsidiaries of the former UAP”. Claude Bébéar provided technical assistance to Sunu from its inception in 1998.
“In ten years, he has made Sunu the leading life insurance group in French-speaking Africa”
Success was not long in coming. Especially financially. Banks agreed to lend money to the new company. Some people close to him attribute this success to “the quality of the relations that Pathé Dione has with the banking system, both in Europe and in Africa, where he works closely with such institutions as Ecobank and the Bank of Africa (BOA)”. Professionally, he was appointed director of the Ivorian subsidiary of BNP Paribas.
At the time of his death, Pathé Dione left behind a Sunu group present in more than 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, now the leader in life insurance in the Cima zone (Inter-African Conference of Insurance Markets), with nearly 30 subsidiaries and affiliates. In 2020, this group represented a turnover of more than 310 million euros. In ten years, Pathé Dione has made Sunu the leading life insurance group in French-speaking Africa.