Zurich Insurance Group AG (ZURN) Chairman Josef Ackermann resigned after the company’s finance chief died in a suspected suicide.
“The unexpected death of Pierre Wauthier has deeply shocked me,” Ackermann said in a statement today. “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.”
Ackermann, 65, didn’t describe the allegations and Zurich Insurance declined to provide further information. Martin Senn, the company’s chief executive officer, told Swiss public broadcaster SRF that the insurer hadn’t “seen any conflicts that could or should have led to such a death.” Fabienne Wauthier, the victim’s widow, said she was advised not to comment further when reached by Bloomberg News.
Wauthier, 53, a father of two, was found dead at his home on Aug. 26. Police in Zug, Switzerland, said the following day that an autopsy indicated he probably committed suicide. Wauthier had been appointed chief financial officer at Switzerland’s largest insurer in September 2011 after previous roles as group treasurer and head of centrally managed businesses.
Swiss-born Ackermann, who ended a 10-year tenure as Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) CEO in May 2012, led Germany’s biggest bank through the 2008 financial crisis. He joined Zurich Insurance as chairman last year.
He will be replaced on an acting basis by Vice-Chairman Tom de Swaan, Zurich Insurance said in the statement. De Swaan, 67, who joined the board in April 2006 and became vice-chairman in March last year, was appointed CFO at ABN Amro Bank in 1999 and retired from the lender in 2006.
“While a chairman’s resignation certainly adds to uncertainty about a company’s strategy, Tom de Swaan is a very experienced replacement, which is reassuring,” said Daniel Bischof, a Zurich-based analyst with Helvea SA who has a buy rating on the company.
Zurich Insurance shares fell as much as 3.8 percent, and were 2.9 percent lower at 227.80 francs by 3:38 p.m. in Zurich, valuing the company at 33.7 billion francs ($36.2 billion).
“To avoid any damage to Zurich’s reputation, I have decided to resign from all my board functions with immediate effect,” Ackermann said in the statement.
Senn, in the Swiss TV interview, said Ackermann had put the company’s interests above his own. The Zurich-based insurer will hold a conference call for analysts with the CEO and de Swaan tomorrow morning.
After joining Deutsche Bank in 1996 as head of credit risks, Ackermann helped transform a German-focused institution into a global banking franchise and raised its profile in debt underwriting and mergers and acquisitions advice. He became co-head of investment banking in 1998, taking sole responsibility for the unit a few months later, and was promoted to CEO in 2002.
Wauthier was the second senior Swiss executive in five weeks to take his life after Carsten Schloter, 49, CEO of Swisscom AG (SCMN), Switzerland’s biggest phone company, was found dead at his home on July 23.
Wauthier, a citizen of Britain and France, held a Master’s degree in international finance from l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales and a Masters in private law from the Sorbonne University in Paris. He worked for two years at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and joined JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM:US) in 1985, before joining Zurich Insurance in 1996.
Vibhu Sharma, 47, group controller, will take over as CFO on an interim basis, the company said.
The changes in top management at Zurich Insurance follow two departures from the executive board in the past 15 months. Kevin Hogan, who headed the global life business for Zurich, resigned earlier this month to join American International Group Inc. Mario Greco, who headed general insurance, left in June 2012 to become the CEO of Assicurazioni Generali SpA. (G) Ann Haugh, chief of staff, left on Aug. 20, Zurich Insurance said in a statement today.
“A lot of strong management people have decided to leave Zurich,” said Thomas Seidl, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein in London with a market perform rating on Zurich Insurance. “We were especially surprised that Kevin Hogan decided to leave as he headed a very promising segment.”
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