* Ackermann felt CFO death crimped his ability to push for
* Departure of chairman Ackermann a puzzle for Zurich
* Senior figures wonder about Ackermann's reasons for
By Edward Taylor and Philipp Halstrick
FRANKFURT, Sept 1 Josef Ackermann resigned
because he saw the suicide of Zurich Insurance Group's
finance chief curbing his ability to drive through change to
revive profits, a source close to the former chairman said on
Top managers at the Swiss insurer, now battling to reassure
investors, told Reuters they were puzzled by Ackermann's abrupt
departure after less than 18 months in the job and by his
explanation that Pierre Wauthier's family blamed him for driving
the Zurich CFO to kill himself - an allegation Ackermann denied.
Some speculated on other possible motives for Thursday's
resignation, which surprised many who have followed the dynamic
career of the 65-year-old Ackermann since he rose to prominence
and power in turning around Germany's Deutsche Bank.
But the person familiar with Ackermann's reasons dismissed
talk of him using Wauthier's death a week ago as an excuse for a
move motivated by other reasons - such as personal legal
headaches or an existing disillusion with a company in which
some say the banker was lost in the alien culture of insurance.
"He was not satisfied with Zurich's performance, which is
why he campaigned to change this," the source said.
"When the CFO took his life, it became clear to him that he
could not keep up this pressure. Because of this, the chances of
succeeding were called into question. That's why he resigned."
Wauthier, 53, explicitly blamed Ackermann for putting him
under pressure in a suicide note, his family told the company -
an allegation Ackermann called "unfounded" as he announced he
was leaving to spare the reputation of Europe's No.3 insurer.
The remarks on Sunday point to more fundamental concerns
about Zurich's business strategy, with Ackermann apparently
unhappy about management performance but realising that being
seen to pressure executives for improvement was unlikely to be
an option in the wake of Wauthier's death.
The initial dual messages from Ackermann - that he was
stepping down over the family's allegations about his role in
the suicide but also rejecting the accusations - had prompted
head-scratching among senior managers at Zurich Insurance.
After a decade running Deutsche, why did he quit
after becoming Zurich chairman only in March 2012, they
wondered. Some added a note of disapproval of what it meant for
"When the company is in crisis you need stability, not a
chairman who takes off," said one person who has spoken to
"People are wondering if the Wauthier suicide is enough of
a reason to resign, and people are wondering what other
explanations there could be."
CLASH OF STYLE
Chief executive Martin Senn insisted to Swiss weekly paper
NZZ am Sonntag at the weekend that there had been no evidence of
tensions between Ackermann and Wauthier.
But people in Ackermann's entourage vigorously reject the
suggestion that he may have been motivated to step aside by
factors other than the chief financial officer's death.
If concerns about what it would mean for future performance
were the main explanation, however, it was no secret Ackermann
had been struggling already to get his way at the company.
Even before Wauthier died, there were signs that Ackermann,
who rose from the hard-charging world of investment banking to
become one of Europe's leading economic power brokers, was
struggling to change the cautious, consensual culture at Zurich.
Shaking up that approach was one of the main reasons he was
made chairman last year. But delivering change was not easy, and
Ackermann encountered resistance from the start.
There was grumbling, insiders say, with Ackermann's style.
He retained the services of his own spokesman from his Deutsche
days and insisted on being given an office with a lake view -
something his predecessor Manfred Gentz did not have.
At events like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ackermann
sometimes appeared to upstage the Zurich CEO, Senn.
Some within the company saw him as a fish out of water - a
brash banker in the sedate world of insurance.
"Ackermann's mission when he came was to shake up Zurich, to
infuse a more dynamic mentality into it," another source close
to the departed chairman said. "Yes, insurance isn't banking but
there was still more 'oomph' to be wrung out."
Wauthier's suicide may have convinced Ackermann that this
sort of change was impossible.
Another hypothesis, put forward by a senior executive at the
insurer, was that Ackermann may have been worried about other
scandals from his time at Deutsche Bank catching up with him.
Ackermann's resignation came shortly after German media
reports that Munich prosecutors had summoned him and several
other former Deutsche executives for questioning in a
decade-long dispute with the heirs of deceased media magnate Leo
Prosecutors want to examine claims, according to these
reports, that former management board members at Deutsche misled
the court during an earlier trial. Munich prosecutors and
Deutsche Bank have declined to confirm the summons.
People close to Ackermann have said the long-running Kirch
affair has absolutely nothing to do with his resignation.
Meanwhile, the Swiss insurer is trying to return to business
as usual. But it faces major challenges that go beyond the
recent upheaval in its executive suite.
Two weeks ago, Zurich warned investors it would be hard
pressed to meet certain targets after high natural disaster
payouts led to a 27-percent drop in second-quarter net profit.
The firm is struggling to meet cost-cutting goals at its
U.S. unit Farmers, and like other insurers, is struggling to
generate strong returns on investments.
Its shares have held up well since news of the suicide
The stock has slipped just 1.36 percent, broadly in line
with the European Insurers index.
Still, over the past six months the company's shares have
fallen 10 percent, compared with a near 9-percent increase in
the European sector.
And Senn told the newspaper that reaching the company's
three-year profit goals would be difficult: "The death of Pierre
Wauthier and the resignation of Joe Ackermann have tarnished the
very good reputation Zurich, without question," he said.
"The resignation of Ackermann was a personal decision. We
have to accept that. I'm now working so we can blow away this
loss of reputation, these clouds that have gathered over the
(Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin, Alice Baghdjian and
Katharina Bart and Martin De Sapinto; Writing by Noah Barkin;
Editing by Alastair Macdonald)