Zurich campaign seeks to restore insurer to normality

Sun Sep 15, 2013 1:48pm EDT
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By Alice Baghdjian and Paul Arnold

ZURICH (Reuters) - By rolling out television, print and billboard marketing campaigns on Monday, Zurich Insurance ZURN.VX is aiming to advertise business as usual after a suicide and resignation in the Swiss insurer's top ranks.

But behind the scenes, Chief Executive Martin Senn is working to regroup before results, repair shareholder confidence, and update investors on three-year targets, all while the firm puts its corporate culture under the microscope.

As a December 5 deadline creeps closer for updating investors on targets the company will likely miss, the spotlight is on how Senn will pilot the company after the suicide of its finance chief Pierre Wauthier last month and the subsequent resignation of its chairman Josef Ackermann days later.

Ackermann, a former Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE: Quote) CEO, was named in a suicide note. Zurich's board is looking into whether any undue strain was placed on Wauthier and into the insurer's wider corporate culture and behaviour.

Senn, who became CEO in 2010, reached the rank of first lieutenant in the Swiss army - a training which Ackermann, who also has a military background, said in a 2002 interview provided better preparation for overcoming crises and competition than business school.

Now the 56-year-old Senn must reassure employees and investors and replenish the top ranks at Zurich.

"Expectations of him are very high," said Dominik Studer, an analyst at J. Safra Sarasin who has a neutral rating on the stock.

"He's firmly in the saddle, but at the moment he has to cope with some demanding tasks," Studer said, citing the update of the earnings targets for Zurich's U.S. unit Farmers and non-life, as well as finding a new CFO.   Continued...