Suicides in Swiss Business World Rock Nation's Rep

'I am tired' is common refrain of financial sector execs
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 3, 2016 2:08 PM CDT
Suicides in Swiss Business World Rock Nation's Rep
What's going on in Switzerland?   (Shutterstock)

Envision moving to Switzerland, and pleasant images of a moneyed high life may arise. But reality in the Swiss business world may not be in keeping with what Reuters calls the country's "picture postcard image," especially after a recent string of suicides among top executives there. Martin Senn, the ex-CEO of Zurich Insurance, killed himself last week, per the AP, just three years after the company's CFO, Pierre Wauthier, also died by his own hand. The head of Swisscom telecommunications firm also killed himself in 2013, as did the chief of Julius Baer bank in 2008. And while stats from a 2014 World Health Organization report don't indicate runaway suicide rates in Switzerland—the report puts the country squarely in the midrange of suicide rates among European nations—some entrenched in the Swiss business world have noted the stresses that may proliferate in the managerial arena. "If you fail, you are expected to excuse yourself from the conversation and drop any further ambitions," one entrepreneur tells Reuters. "You're not expected to show your face again."

Those stresses may arise from a desire to retain Switzerland's conservative traditions, often at odds with the pressure of investor demands, a sluggish world economy, and ever-changing regulations. "Whenever I ask people in the financial sector how they feel, they answer: 'I am tired,'" a professor at the IMD Business School says. In Wauthier's case, his suicide note pointed the finger at then-Zurich CEO Josef Ackermann, who some claimed had tried to ditch the insurance giant's conservative foundation and pressured managers to get riskier in investments. Ackermann resigned in 2013 due to the backlash from Wauthier's suicide. Other medical experts say businesspeople at the top may not cope well with leaving their firms, as in the case of Senn's sudden departure six months ago. "Top people who lose their jobs often fall into a deep hole," the director of a Swiss workers' association tells Swiss Radio International. "It is difficult to define their life beyond their profession, their function, [their] status." (To help others, a college president revealed his own suicide attempts.)

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