Update: No “Undue Pressure” in Swiss CFO Suicide Case

Pierre Wauthier, Zurich Insurance’s CFO

In September, we reported on CFO Pierre Wauthier’s suicide at Zurich Insurance Group, where friction between chairman Josef Ackermann and Wauthier contributed to a “pressure-cooker” work environment. A suicide note left by Wauthier led to an investigation conducted by two independent sources.

These two probes reveal no indication that Wauthier was subject to “undue pressure” before taking his life, the company said on Monday, November 4. Furthermore, there are no reports of financial misreporting that could have potentially contributed to the suicide, as financial reporting was aligned with regulatory and accounting expectations. Still, Wauthier’s suicide note and the investigational findings leave no explanation behind his tragic decision.

Wauthier’s suicide fueled speculation that Zurich Insurance may have been “too ambitious” in its plans for growth, contributing to the late-CFO’s stress. Three-year targets set from 2014-2016 are expected to be re-evaluated on the company’s investor day on December 5. Despite the findings, Wauthier’s widow still believes that the strained relationship with chairman Ackermann contributed to the suicide, though she admits that her charge is “unfounded.”

Though the findings from the probe have been released, the report has not yet been officially presented to the board, which means changes could yet be made before a finalized release. Calls to the Wauthier family have not been handled.

Diffusing Workplace Tension

Whether or not Wauthier experienced “undue pressure,” his suicide has spurred a conversation concerning tension in the workplace. According to Forbes, a number of professionals with promise have self-destructed on a regular basis because they’re unsure how they should respond to conflict in the workplace.

The reality is that finance professionals will inevitably encounter conflict, especially CFOs who stand at the front of the helm. Competitive tension, opposing viewpoints, internal conflicts, performance discrepancies, and much more can lead to a “pressure cooker” environment.

However, finance professionals such as CFOs must begin to view conflict as an opportunity for growth and development. Communicating clearly about conflict and defining what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace develops leadership that stimulates innovation and teamwork. Even if personal gaps can’t quite be closed, team members must find common ground to become team players.