Zurich finance director's suicide note referred to Josef Ackermann

Company confirmed in a conference call that Pierre Wauthier's letter mentioned his relationship with chairman

Pierre Wauthier, the former finance director of insurance firm Zurich, left a suicide note which referred to his relationship with the company's chairman Josef Ackermann, the company said on Thursday.

"It is correct that it [the letter] relates to the relationship between Pierre Wauthier and Josef Ackermann," the Swiss company's interim chairman, Tom de Swaan, said in a conference call on Friday. A recording of the call has been posted online.

De Swaan said it would be inappropriate to comment further on the note, but added that he was not aware of "any behaviour that would be considered inappropriate in a board setting".

The body of Wauthier, 53, who was married with two grown-up children, was found at his home in Zug, near Zurich, on Monday.

His widow Fabienne is said to have accused Zurich's top management of driving her husband into a corner and that Ackermann's "tough management style" had placed Wauthier under too much pressure, according to Reuters.

A former colleague of Wauthier was quoted in Swiss media reports as saying: "Pierre was under a lot of pressure because there was a lot more pressure from above on the share price. This was an open secret. Wauthier had effectively reached his career ambitions, CFO was his dream."

Another colleague described Wauthier as "rational, easygoing and wonderful".

The existence of the note emerged a day after Ackermann resigned with immediate effecting citing pressure from Wauthier's family to "take my share of responsibility" for their loss.

"To avoid any damage to Zurich's reputation, I have decided to resign from all board functions with immediate effect," he said in a statement on Thursday. He described the allegations as unfounded and has not spoken publicly since.

Martin Senn, Zurich's chief executive, said the company would investigate whether undue pressure was placed on Wauthier. "We didn't spot any conflicts that could or should have led to such a death," Senn told Swiss television.

"I want to be crystal clear, we take corporate culture and behaviour very seriously," he said during the conference call with analysts.

Senn said there was no link between Wauthier's death and the company's recent financial performance. "It had nothing to do with the [financial] reporting format, or the quality of our reporting or the accuracy of our reporting," he said.

The death came less than two weeks after the company reported a 27% drop in second-quarter profits and warned the market that it probably would not meet its performance targets.

It is the second apparent suicide among management at a leading Swiss company in five weeks after Carsten Schloter, chief executive of Swiss mobile phone company Swisscom was found dead in July.

Three months before he died Schloter spoke of his intense difficulty in switching off from the pressure of work. "The most dangerous thing that can happen is that you drop into a mode of permanent activity," he said in an interview in May. "I notice in myself how I find it harder and harder to find the time to take my life down a gear."

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