Safeco announced today it has chosen a veteran of the utility industry, Paula Rosput Reynolds, to head the Seattle-based insurer.

Ms. Reynolds will take over as the company’s new president and chief executive officer effective Jan. 1, 2006. Reynolds also was appointed to Safeco’s board of directors, the company said.

She will replace Mike McGavick who is stepping down to run for the Washington State U.S. Senate seat.

Ms. Reynolds, 49, currently is chairman, president and CEO of AGL Resources, an Atlanta-based energy holding company that includes six natural gas utility companies, wholesale services and energy investments.

Safeco said her 27 years in the energy business has included executive positions in Houston and San Francisco.

“Throughout her career, Paula has distinguished herself as a results-oriented and inclusive leader == setting a clear vision, embracing a diversity of ideas, and encouraging teamwork to bring that vision to life,” said Bob Cline, lead director of Safeco’s board of directors.

Mr. Cline said Ms. Reynolds had demonstrated qualities of teamwork, diversity and vision in her community and business activities outside of work.

“With her proven CEO experience and impressive leadership skills, the board believes Paula is the right person to build on Safeco’s strong financial and operational foundation and lead the company forward,” said Mr. Cline.

In her five years as AGL Resources CEO the company expanded from a regional gas utility to a multi-state, integrated energy company. The company also doubled share price and market capitalization, and increased its dividend by 37 percent.

Ms. Reynolds said she is enthused by an opportunity “to lead Safeco to the next level of success == creating a sustainable competitive advantage and long-term value.”

She said the company has demonstrated “it has the talent and the determination. Rather than a sprint, we’re now in the race for the long run. We intend to deliver excellent performance year after year. I look forward to being at the forefront of that challenge.”

Ms. Reynolds is on the boards of Coca-Cola Enterprises, Delta Air Lines; and the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta.

Mr. McGavick will step down as CEO and chairman of the board on Dec. 31. He will provide transition services for two months as a Safeco employee, the company said.

The insurer said its board selected Ms. Reynolds through a comprehensive search process working with Russell Reynolds Associates, a global search firm.

Ms. Reynolds and her family will relocate to Seattle, where her husband, Stephen P. Reynolds is chairman, president and CEO of Puget Energy.

Safeco also announced its board’s election of Joseph W. “Jay” Brown as its non-executive chairman effective Jan. 1, 2006, replacing McGavick. Brown, 56, has been a Safeco director since 2001.

Mr. Brown is chairman of MBIA, Inc., a financial services company based in Armonk, N.Y. Before joining MBIA in 1999, Brown was chairman, president and CEO of Talegen Holdings, Inc., the former insurance holdings operation of Xerox Corp., and president and CEO of Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company.

“Jay has led property and casualty insurers, he knows Safeco and understands the nuances of the business strategy. He will be a great partner to Paula in the governance of the company,” said Mr. Cline.

When Mr. Brown assumes the chairmanship in January, Cline will step down as lead director.

The company said Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Brown will conduct a conference call with financial analysts tomorrow.

Safeco sells insurance to drivers, home owners and owners of small- and mid-sized businesses.