By Valentina Za

MILAN (Reuters) -The chairman of Italy’s biggest insurer Generali plans to step down in April after 11 years in the job, saying that current tensions among investors were a source of regret.

Gabriele Galateri di Genola told the board he would continue as chairman only until a shareholder meeting when investors are due to vote on a new team of directors.

His departure comes at a delicate time for Generali, with some influential investors opposed to Philippe Donnet staying on as CEO for another term, although its top shareholder backs him.

“I will leave the board in full harmony,” Galateri, who is 75 and a former Fiat chief executive, wrote in a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

He indicated it was time to allow a more independent chair to take the position after such a long time in the role.

“I have done the sums and it’s almost amazing to realise I have been chairman for 11 years,” he added, noting he had also previously served for seven years as vice-chairman.

He did not directly link his departure to pressure for reform at Generali from investors Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone and his fellow Italian billionaire Leonardo Del Vecchio.

However, he expressed “regret for recent tensions in the shareholder base that Generali certainly doesn’t deserve.”

Construction magnate Caltagirone and Del Vecchio, founder of eyewear giant Luxottica have both opposed plans to retain Donnet, who has been chief executive since 2016.

The pair want the insurer to be more ambitious in expanding via acquisitions.

However, Donnet retains the support of Mediobanca, the leading Generali shareholder, ahead of a crunch shareholder meeting at the end of April.

It is not clear who will succeed Galateri in the chairman’s role. The board is working on a list of directors to be put to the shareholder vote.

(Reporting by Valentina ZaWriting by Keith WeirEditing by Michael Urquhart and Mark Potter)