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Business

Swiss financier Ackermann steps down from Siemens

After resigning from Zurich Insurance following the suicide of the chief financial officer, Josef Ackermann is to step down from the board of Siemens. He made the announcement in Berlin.

Josef Ackermann announced on Thursday he was to step down from the board of Siemens AG following an argument over the appointment of a new CEO at the German industrial conglomerate.

The 65-year-old Swiss cited a "discrepancy in questions of style and fairness" as the reason for leaving the Siemens board after more than a decade.

German media reported that Ackermann opposed the replacement of Siemens chief executive Peter Loescher, who quit after the company announced it would not meet its 2014 profit margin targets. The Munich-based company declined comment. Its board members are due to meet again next week.

The announcement came during an event in Berlin to launch a biography written by Ackermann's personal spokesman Stefan Baron, titled "Late remorse: a close-up of Josef Ackermann."

First word on suicide

Ackermann also spoke to reporters for the first time about the suicide of Zurich Insurance's chief financial officer Pierre Wauthier who had described his strained 15-month working relationship with Ackermann in a suicide note.

Wauthier hanged himself at his home near Zug. In the suicide note he described himself as demoralised due to a new, aggressive tone at Zurich under Ackermann, according to people who have seen the letter.

"His accusations against me are incomprehensible," Ackermann said Thursday. "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."

The Swiss financier also insisted that his dealings with Wauthier had been marked by professionalism and mutual respect. "The suicide of the finance chief of Zurich was a complete surprise to everyone," Ackermann added.

Ackermann did not at any time refer to Wauthier by name during his comments on Thursday.

Wauthier, the son of a German mother and French father held dual French-British nationality. He was born in London and educated in Paris, where he earned two master's degrees in business and private law and met his future wife. He worked for KPMG, the French foreign ministry in Sudan, and JPMorgan in Paris and London, before joining Zurich as a corporate credit and investment risk manager in 1996. Wauthier was married with two children.

Asked by reporters in Berlin why he stepped down so quickly after Wauthier's suicide, Ackermann 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. But in light of the incident and the threats he decided it would not have been possible to carry out his duties as Zurich's chairman with the "required resolve."

The former head of Deutsche Bank, Ackermann said he would continue his other commitments, including his posts on the board of Royal Dutch Shell, private equity firm EQT, Sweden's Investor AB, the holding company of the billionaire Wallenberg family, as well as his role at the World Economic Forum.

The Thursday event was Ackermann's first public appearance since the suicide on August 26, except when he was seen at a soccer match between Switzerland and Iceland on the day Zurich held a memorial service for Wauthier.

jm/lw (Reuters, AP)