Josef Ackermann, the chairman of Switzerland’s top-ranking Zurich Insurance Group and a former head of Deutsche Bank, has stepped down with immediate effect following the suspected suicide of the company’s chief financial officer.
Mr Ackermann’s resignation followed the sudden death of 53-year-old Pierre Wauthier, the global insurance giant’s financial chief since 2011, who had complained of from stress before his death. His body was found at his lakeside home in Zug outside Zurich on Monday. Police said he appeared to have committed suicide.
In a statement Mr Ackermann suggested Mr Wauthier’s family believed he bore 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, unfounded as the allegations may be,” he said.
He stated that he had tendered his resignation because his continued successful board leadership of the group had been “called into question”. The insurer’s board said it accepted his decision with deep regret. It announced that the company’s vice-chairman, Tom de Swaan, would replace Mr Ackermann, whose term was due to expire in 2015.
Police are still investigating the cause of Mr Wauthier’s death, which followed the suicide of another top Swiss company executive last month. German-born Carsten Schloter, the 49-year-old head of the Swiss telecommunications giant Swisscom, was found dead near his home in Freiburg in late July. He had also complained about suffering from stress.
Mr Ackermann, who left Deutsche Bank in 2012 to return to his native Switzerland said yesterday that he had been “deeply shocked” by the sudden and unexpected death of Mr Wauthier, who leaves a wife and two children. His apparent suicide appeared to have occurred at a time the Zurich Group was facing financial difficulties.
The untimely deaths of two of Switzerland’s leading executives have prompted calls for greater support for top businessmen who show signs stress and a re-examination of the country’s highly competitive boardroom culture.
Switzerland was rocked by Mr Schloter’s suicide, which appeared to have been prompted by the break-up of his marriage in 2009, separation from his three young children, and the near permanent stress inflicted on him by his Smartphone – the device to which owed much of his business success.
In a series of candid interviews given shortly before his death, Mr Schloter explained how he found it impossible to switch off his phone and felt under constant stress: “I find it increasingly difficult to calm down and to reduce tempo,” he said.