Former Zurich Insurance CEO Martin Senn Killed Himself

The former chief executive of Zurich Insurance has killed himself, the company said on Monday, less than three years after the company’s chief financial officer also took his own life.

The death of Martin Senn, 59, takes the number of suicides by executives at Switzerland’s biggest companies to five in just eight years.

Senn was chief executive of Zurich in 2013 when Pierre Wauthier, the insurer’s chief financial officer, killed himself.

Zurich, Switzerland’s biggest insurer, said it was “stunned and deeply shaken” by the death of Senn, who was chief executive between 2010 and 2015.

In a statement it said: “Martin Senn’s family has informed us that Martin committed suicide last Friday. With Martin, we lose not only a commendable former CEO and valued former colleague, but also a good-hearted friend. Our thoughts are with his family, to whom we express our deepest condolences.

“Out of respect for Martin and out of consideration for the family, we will not make any further comment.”

Police in the canton of Grisons confirmed they had responded to a case but gave no further details.

Senn resigned from the company on 1 December last year after a failed takeover bid for the British insurer RSA and a series of profit warnings. Zurich walked away from the £5.6bn deal after suffering £175m of losses from an explosion at the Chinese port of Tianjin and problems in its US car insurance division.

At the company’s annual meeting in 2014, Senn spoke about the death of Wauthier. “The grief and shock we experienced at the suicide of our colleague Pierre Wauthier was enormous,” he said.

The suicide prompted a company-wide inquiry into workplace pressure, with Zurich’s then chairman, Josef Ackermann, resigning after he was named in Wauthier’s suicide note.

The note, addressed “to whom it may concern” described how Wauthier had become demoralised by what he called a new, more aggressive tone at Zurich.

Two independent investigations directed by Swiss regulators found no indication he had been subject to undue pressure by decision-makers at the company.

Wauthier’s widow and children, however, lashed out at the company in an address at its annual meeting directed at the chairman, Tom de Swaan.

“You stated last week that Zurich has improved,” they said. “We sincerely wish we could believe you for the sake of the people inside your corporation. But the way you handled Pierre’s suicide is a sign that unaccountability remains part of Zurich’s corporate culture.”

Switzerland’s business community has been rocked by a series of suicides since Alex Widmer, the chief executive of private bank Julius Baer, killed himself in 2008 as the financial crash loomed.

Swisscom’s boss Carsten Schloter killed himself in 2013 after telling interviewers that he found it increasingly difficult to switch off outside work because he owned a smartphone.

“The most dangerous thing is to fall into a mode of permanent activity and continuously consult one’s smartphone to see whether any new mails have come in,” he told Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag. “Everyone should switch off their mobile phone from time to time.”

Asked whether he found it possible to ignore his phone, he said: “No, I must say that I find it increasingly difficult to calm down and to reduce tempo. Perhaps that has something to do with age.”

He also lamented a lack of “windows” in which he could unwind, saying: “It makes you feel as if you are being strangled.”

Adrian Kohler, the boss of the herbal sweets company Ricola, killed himself in 2011 two days after confessing financial irregularities to fellow board members.

In 2014, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry concluded that the financial crisis was a factor in 10,000 suicides.

Experts from the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said suicide rates in Europe rose by 6.5% between 2007 and 2009 and remained higher than usual until 2011.

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