Lessons From the Suicides of Zurich’s Bosses

Every suicide is intensely sad – a despairing act of self-harm that leaves a legacy of guilt and sorrow for the victim’s family, friends and colleagues. That of Martin Senn , chief executive of Zurich Insurance until last December, is doubly resonant because it follows the suicide of Pierre Wauthier , Zurich’s chief financial officer, three years ago. Senn, who killed himself at his Klosters holiday home last Friday, is said to have struggled to adjust to being no longer the boss of a Swiss multinational. He agreed to step down after Zurich failed to acquire the UK insurer RSA last year, and faced problems in the US and China. The company is now restructuring and cutting costs. It made me alert to the malaise, though. When I hear of senior executives resigning or taking a break from their work because they are experiencing “sleeplessness”, “burnout”, “exhaustion”, or some other corporate euphemism for anxiety and depression, I recall what it taught me. One lesson is the common nature of mood disorder in the boardroom. Even the official estimates suggest that every board of directors is likely to contain at least one person with an experience of depression. In 2014, 7 per cent of US adults reported having a major episode in the past year; 16 per cent are diagnosed with depression at least once in their lifetimes. This may be an underestimate for directors and executives, if anecdote is reliable. (FT)

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