IT may be a famous name, but LV= is “not a big business”, its chief executive points out.

Yet in recent weeks, the former Liverpool Victoria has found itself on the front pages of national newspapers, the subject of a vociferous campaign to stop it falling into American hands.

The chief executive behind the proposed £530million sale to the private equity firm Bain Capital is Mark Hartigan. The 58-year-old former army colonel served in Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq and went on to be head of European operations for Zurich.

He was put in charge at LV= in January 2020, when the entire senior leadership team had left the business after selling its general insurance arm to Allianz for £1.1billion.

His task was to improve the prospects for the “rump” of the company that was left.

In a lengthy interview at LV=’s County Gates headquarters – where 800 LV= staff share premises with those now working for Allianz – he insisted he had not been hell-bent on ending the business’s 178-year history as a mutual organisation, owned by holders of with-profits policies.

“I didn’t arrive here and say ‘How can we demutualise this company?’. It’s not an objective. It’s a consequence of seeking third-party investment,” he said.

The aim was to give LV= a sustainable future, he said, dealing with declining market share and an inability to cover costs.

“What was clear was that if we were to get a penny from a third party, we had to demutualise,” he said.

Bain, he said, made the biggest net offer, despite Royal London offering a headline figure £10m higher. Bain also committed to keeping the current sites and investing to expand the business.

The sale comes at a time when US private equity firms are snapping up a host of famous British names. Shareholders at Morrisons recently backed a £7bn takeover, while famous Dorset names Cobham and McCarthy & Stone have both been sold to American funds in recent times.

While the principle is under fire, so is the £100 offered to each member if the deal goes through. It has been criticised as “paltry”.

“What’s left of LV= is a small company, so the £100 still represents 20 per cent of the overall money that’s coming in,” Mr Hartigan said.

“If we made it more, would it have been fair on the with-profit members who were therefore going to get less of the £530m?”

Mr Hartigan has found himself under intense scrutiny, particularly from the Daily Mail, which put the story on its front page and won support from politicians ranging from Lord Heseltine to Ed Miliband.

“It’s been very destabilising, to be absolutely honest, because I’ve been trying to get the issues out,” Mr Hartigan said.

“The whole communications from our side is governed by a court process. We took months to work on the member voting pack which had to be deemed by the regulator and the experts as not misleading, fair to members and transparent in every way.

“So we’ve been really disciplined in that we’ve had to try and make sure that our communications are in line with the 70-page member voting pack that we’ve agreed through the court is fair and not misleading. On the other hand, we’ve had some interesting media which has been anything other than fair and unbiased.

“I’m not complaining about it. Emotions are high and I respect the scrutiny that we’re under. I’m disappointed that that scrutiny has not always stuck to the facts off the matter. I worry about how upsetting it must be for the staff because they’re well aware of the options that faced us.

“It’s a journey we’ve all taken together. I speak to them every week, I write to them every week and indeed we’ve been holding webinars for members to deal with their questions directly.”

Critics have suggested Mr Hartigan could benefit if he remains as chief executive after the Bain sale. “I’m disappointed that this has been a focus,” he said.

“I don’t have a contract for Bain Capital. It would be inappropriate to enter into that before the vote was taken, so I’m not focusing on my future. I’m focusing on the future of this great British company, the people that serve in it, the opportunity to keep the brand going and the sites in which we operate and the communities in which we serve, as well as giving the best possible financial outcome for members.”

If the sale goes ahead, he argued, LV= could be a “robust, well-funded new business with every opportunity to grow”. Alternatively, it could find itself repeating the search for a buyer.

But Mr Hartigan added: “Bain Capital were singular in their commitment to the staff, the people, the brand and their financial support to members. I cannot believe that anyone will come in with anything like a deal that’s as good as we have on the table.”