Executive suicides scratch Switzerland's picture perfect veneer

Fri Jun 3, 2016 12:04pm EDT
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By John Miller and John O'Donnell

ZURICH/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - An unusual number of suicides by top executives in Switzerland has prompted introspection in its business community over how senior managers are dealing with stress as its companies struggle to retain their status in the global economy.

The death last week of the former chief executive of Zurich Insurance, Martin Senn, came less than three years after the insurer's finance chief, Pierre Wauthier, took his own life.

Wauthier had blamed pressure from the company's then chairman Josef Ackermann in a suicide note, although Ackermann was cleared in a subsequent investigation.

Acquaintances of Senn, 59, said he had been withdrawn since he was ousted from the company late last year, though few details of the circumstances that led to him shooting himself at his family home in the upmarket Alpine resort of Klosters have emerged.

Martin Naville, chief executive of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, said the business circles where Senn and Wauthier once moved had been left shocked, pondering what could have been done to prevent the tragedies.

"The only thing you can do is to be more attentive to signs," Naville said.

He knew Senn, who was president of the chamber, as well as Wauthier, who had British-French dual citizenship. He also knew Carsten Schloter, the German-born head of telecoms group Swisscom, who took his life in 2013, and Alex Widmer, head of bank Julius Baer, who committed suicide in 2008.

Their deaths contrast with the picture postcard image of Switzerland as one of the world's wealthiest and most stable countries.   Continued...

Zurich Insurance Chief Executive Martin Senn attends the company's annual news conference in Zurich, Switzerland February 12, 2015. Senn has died after committing suicide, the company said May 30, 2016.    REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo