The Zurich Insurance Group finance chief who shocked Switzerland by taking his own life a week ago is alleged to have complained in his suicide note he was “badly treated” and “not valued” by Josef Ackermann, the company’s high-profile former chairman who resigned over the death last week.
The accusations were published in Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper over the weekend, following the suicide of Zurich group finance chief Pierre Wauthier last Monday and the subsequent sudden resignation of Mr Ackermann on Thursday.
The newspaper quoted unnamed company sources who claimed to have read the 53-year-old Mr Wauthier’s death note. They said his reasons for taking his own life were “purely emotional” and that Mr Wauthier had “felt badly treated and that his work was not valued” by Mr Ackermann.
In the note Mr Ackermann, 65, was also accused of running the company badly and of bringing an “aggressive form of dialogue” to the concern. “He thought Zurich Insurance was a dusty bureaucrats’ outfit that needed smartening up,” is how one company insider described Mr Ackermann’s attitude to the Tages-Anzeiger.
The allegations follow an announcement by Zurich Insurance that it would conduct its own investigation into the death of Mr Wauthier, who was found dead at his lakeside home outside Zurich. The company said it wanted to establish whether Mr Wauthier had been subjected to “unjustifiable pressure”.
Bernd de Wall, a spokesman for Zurich Insurance, told The Independent yesterday that the company had seen Mr Wauthier’s suicide note and its contents were known to senior executives. He described the allegations as “strong accusations” but said the company considered it “inappropriate” to comment further on the content of the suicide note.
In a previous statement, Zurich Insurance board director Martin Senn said: “We have not found any evidence of conflicts which could or should have resulted in a death of this kind.” Mr Ackermann explained that he had stepped down as head of the Swiss insurance giant because Mr Wauthier’s family appeared to believe that he bore some responsibility for his death “however unfounded the allegations”. Mr Ackermann said his future role as chairman of the company had been “called into question” as a result.
The contents of Mr Wauthier’s suicide note are likely to increase pressure on Mr Ackermann to explain himself further.
The former Deutsche Bank boss took over as chairman of the Zurich Group in 2012 and had ambitious plans to overtake rival global insurance companies through improved performance.
Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeiutng reported at the weekend that Mr Ackermann was “deeply upset” by the charges said to be levelled against him in Mr Wauthier’s suicide note.
Mr Wauthier’s suicide followed the death of German-born Carsten Schloter, the 49-year-old head of the Swiss telecommunications giant Swisscom who took his own life near his home in Freiburg in late July after complaining about unbearable stress and an addiction to his smartphone.
The two deaths have prompted calls for greater support for top businessmen who show stress signs and a re-examination of the country’s highly competitive boardroom culture.