Zurich chairman quits over CFO suicide
Zurich, August 29, 2013
Josef Ackermann, the former Deutsche Bank boss, resigned on Thursday as chairman of Zurich Insurance over the apparent suicide of the Swiss insurer's chief financial officer.
Ackermann said the family of Pierre Wauthier, who had worked at Europe's No 3 insurance group for 17 years, believed he shared some of the blame for his death.
"I have reasons to believe that the family is of the opinion that I should take my share of responsibility, as unfounded as any allegations might be," he said in a statement on Thursday.
"As a consequence, I see the possibility of a continued successful board leadership to the benefit of Zurich called into question," he said.
On Tuesday, police said Wauthier - who was found dead at his home in a lakefront suburb of Zug outside Zurich on Monday - appeared to have committed suicide.
His death came soon after the suicide of another top Swiss executive, the head of telecoms firm Swisscom in July.
A spokeswoman did not elaborate on what allegations Ackermann was referring to surrounding Wauthier, who was 53 and leaves a wife and two children.
Wauthier's death and the apparent suicide of Swisscom boss Carsten Schloter five weeks ago have prompted calls for greater support for boardroom high-fliers.
"Pierre was under a lot of pressure because there was a lot more pressure from above on the share price, this was an open secret," a former colleague, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. "Wauthier had effectively reached his career ambitions, CFO was his dream."
Zurich's chief executive Martin Senn said he was not aware of any dispute that could have driven Wauthier to his death. "We didn't spot any conflicts that could or should have led to such a death," Senn told Swiss TV.
Ackermann's departure means Zurich loses the leadership of a top European banker who transformed Deutsche Bank during a decade there and then played a role in the European financial crisis as chairman of the Institute of International Finance, the global banking industry's lobby group.
He was often touted as a possible candidate for top financial jobs in Switzerland, including as head of the Swiss National Bank, before he took the relatively low-key role at Zurich.
Ackermann has survived controversy before, having agreed in 2006 to make a 3.2 million euro payment, without any admission of wrongdoing, to avoid trial in a dispute over golden handshakes to executives at telecoms firm Mannesmann.
Since returning to Switzerland after leaving Deutsche in 2012, Ackermann has become a forceful advocate for the Swiss financial sector. He is one of few senior industry figures to keep his job through the financial crisis. -Reuters