Zurich chairman quits after finance chief’s death

GENEVA (AP) — The chairman of the Zurich Insurance Group abruptly resigned Thursday over the apparent suicide of its chief financial officer, claiming he wants to avoid damaging the company’s reputation.

Josef Ackermann, who is Swiss and a former CEO of Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest, said in a company statement that he was resigning because he believed the undisclosed accusations leveled against him by the family of deceased CFO Pierre Wauthier could hurt Zurich’s top ranks.

A day after Wauthier’s death, Swiss police said Tuesday that he appeared to have taken his own life. He was found dead in his home in the wealthy lakefront community of Zug, just outside Zurich. Ackermann said the family believes he bears some responsibility for the death.

“The unexpected death of Pierre Wauthier has deeply shocked me,” Ackermann was quoted as saying in the company statement. “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.”

“As a consequence, I see the possibility of a continued successful board leadership to the benefit of Zurich called into question,” he continued. “To avoid any damage to Zurich’s reputation, I have decided to resign from all my board functions with immediate effect.”

Wauthier, 53, would be the second top executive of a Swiss company to commit suicide in the past five weeks. Switzerland’s leading telecommunications company Swisscom said last month that its 49-year-old chief executive Carsten Schloter took his own life.

Wauthier, who was a citizen of both the U.K and France, joined Zurich 17 years ago and was appointed CFO in 2011. Before that he had worked at JP Morgan’s investment bank and the French foreign ministry.

Ackermann, who left Deutsche Bank only last year to return to Switzerland, and Wauthier had both presided over the finances of a company during a challenging time. Two weeks before Wauthier’s death the company said it was struggling to meet its performance targets: It posted an 18 percent drop in profit in its quarterly financial report compared to the year earlier. And in the past year, some top managers have left the company.

The board’s vice chairman, Tom de Swaan, is taking over as acting chairman of Zurich, a major insurance provider that employs about 60,000 people in more than 170 countries.

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