* First public comments by former Deutsche CEO since suicide
* Zurich Insurance CFO blamed Ackermann in note before death
* Swiss banker to step down from Siemens board
* Biography describes Ackermann as ultra-demanding boss
By Noah Barkin
BERLIN, Sept 12 In his first public comments
since resigning from Switzerland's largest insurer after being
named in the suicide note of its finance chief, Josef Ackermann
said it was unfair to blame him for what he called a surprise
Speaking to reporters in Berlin at the presentation of a
biography that depicts him as a hard-driving perfectionist, the
former Deutsche Bank CEO described the death of
Pierre Wauthier as a "very tragic event".
But he said he had barely known the executive who blamed him
in a note that he typed before taking his own life last month.
Days later, Ackermann stepped down as chairman of Zurich
Insurance. On Thursday, he announced he would also be
giving up his seat on the supervisory board of Siemens
after losing an internal battle in July over the
ousting of the German engineering giant's CEO.
The moves mark a dramatic downturn in the career of the
65-year-old former Swiss army colonel, who rose to become one of
Europe's most powerful bankers, leading Deutsche for a decade
during the global financial crisis and euro zone debt turmoil.
"The suicide of the finance chief of Zurich was a complete
surprise to everyone," said Ackermann, looking calm and composed
in a blue suit and tie.
"However I resolutely reject the idea, contained in the note
from the deceased, that I was responsible or partly responsible
for his suicide. There are no grounds whatsoever for his
accusations against me."
Ackermann did not once mention Wauthier by name, referring
to him repeatedly as the "finance chief". He said he had not
spoken with his former colleague's family.
The biography by his personal spokesman Stefan Baron, titled
"Late remorse: a close-up of Josef Ackermann", depicts him as an
impatient, exacting boss who demanded excellence from staff but
also took colleagues and their partners away for weekend breaks,
including a trip to India to play elephant polo.
"It's not a cakewalk to work for Josef Ackermann," Baron
writes. "With deadly precision he uncovers even the smallest
weakness in an argument or presentation, and will push for
improvements until he feels it is perfect.
"The Swiss is impatient and wants to see results. Nobody
should expect a 'thank you' after working through the night."
Ackermann said his encounters with Wauthier, who left a wife
and two children, had been infrequent and limited to exchanges
about the insurer's accounts that he described as "always
businesslike and based on mutual respect".
Sources have told Reuters that at a meeting in mid-August, a
day before second quarter earnings were released, Ackermann
insisted that Wauthier make changes to the results presentation,
leading Zurich to signal a lack of progress on business targets.
Less than two weeks later, Wauthier hanged himself at his
home near Zug. In the note he described himself as demoralised
due to a new, aggressive tone at Zurich under Ackermann,
according to people who have seen the letter.
Asked how he was coping with the suicide, Ackermann replied:
"This was a very tragic event, no question. Only I didn't find
what then occurred, these accusations, how shall I say it, to be
Ackermann returned to his native Switzerland in March of
last year to take on the role at Zurich after 10 years leading
Deutsche. Explaining why he stepped down so quickly after the
suicide, he said Wauthier's family had threatened to go to the
media with details of the note.
"There are many who asked me, encouraged me to carry on," he
said. In light of the incident and the threats, however, he came
to the conclusion that it would not have been possible to carry
out his duties as chairman with the "required resolve".
He said he would remain on the boards of companies such as
Royal Dutch Shell and Sweden's Investor AB. But people
close to him have said he is likely to take a lower profile in
public in the coming months.
Ackermann had not been out in public since Wauthier's
suicide, except when he was seen at an evening soccer World Cup
qualifying match between Switzerland and Iceland on the day
Zurich held a memorial service for the chief financial officer.
(Additional reporting by Edward Taylor in Frankfurt, Matthias
Sobolewski in Berlin, Katharina Bart and Alice Baghdjian in
Zurich; Editing by Paul Taylor)