Zurich Insurance Group officials confirmed today that Josef Ackermann stepped down as chairman of the company after learning that Chief Financial Officer Pierre Wauthier mentioned him in his suicide note.
Wauthier had been finance chief since 2011
The company confirmed the justification of Ackermann’s decision in a conference call covered by Bloomberg Television and in a statement.
“We were informed that such a letter exists and we are aware of its content. It is correct that it relates to the relationship between Pierre Wauthier and Josef Ackermann but it would be inappropriate for us to further elaborate on it,” the company said.
“It is a very difficult situation, especially for the families and friends of Pierre Wauthier. We all need to respect their privacy during this difficult time and we deeply regret his passing, which was completely unexpected,” the company added.
Ackermann guided German’s Deutsche Bank as CEO during the financial crisis. He served 10 years in that position.
Ackermann said yesterday he was stepping down after members of Wauthier’s family accused him of sharing responsibility for the death. The 65-year-old Swiss national called the allegations “unfounded.”
Zurich shares rose in trading on the Zurich stock exchange after the company said the problems between the two apparently had nothing to do with financial performance. That uptick followed four days of declines.
In the conference call, the company said there was no link between Wauthier’s death and Zurich’s financial performance. “We stand by everything we said at the half year,” Chief Executive Martin Senn said.
Tom de Swaan, acting chairman after Ackermann quit, said the company planned to investigate whether Wauthier had been put under undue strain before his death. Wauthier, a company veteran, was found dead at his family’s lakefront home on Monday.
According to Reuters, Wauthier’s family shared the contents of the letter with senior executives at the firm. Wauthier explicitly blamed Ackermann in the note for putting him under pressure, said a source, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Ackerman described the allegations as “unfounded” but said he would leave to avoid damaging Zurich’s reputation. The insurer said Ackermann had made a personal decision to leave after a year as chairman.
According to Reuters’ sources, Ackermann and Wauthier had clashed over the company’s second-quarter results and how they were presented earlier this month.