12 Corporate Executives Who Took Their Own Lives

The steepest price of any financial crisis–personal, corporate, global–comes in human lives. Yesterday’s report of Freddie Mac CFO David Kellermann’s suicide is a tragic reminder that workplace stress can contribute to devastating loss of life.

The financial crisis of the past two years has resulted in an especially high number of suicides. Many of the men listed below ended their lives in 2008-2009. This list recounts condensed facts listed in the mainstream media, but does not address the more important stories of these men’s lives and memories from their loved ones, which are linked throughout:

1. J. Clifford Baxter, former Enron Corp. Vice Chairman
Died: Houston, 2002. 43 years old.

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Baxter worked for Enron for nearly a decade and earned nearly $22 million from company options before stepping down from his post in May 2001. CNN reports that he had written and complained about one of Enron’s limited partnerships–later linked to Enron’s collapse–to Enron executives before stepping down in May 2001. In November 2001, the Enron accounting scandal hit.

By early 2002, Congress was investigating Enron’s collapse, and wanted to interview Baxter. In January of that month, Baxter died in his car of a single gunshot wound to his head.

2. Adolf Merckle, Industrial Tycoon

Died: Blaubeuren, Germany. 75 years old.

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Merckle, one of the richest men in Germany, owned and grew Phoenix Pharmahandel into Germany’s biggest pharmaceutical wholesaler, according to Forbes. He owned Ratiopharm Group, a generic drugmaker, and had major stakes in cement, textiles, software, cane sugar, and ATV manufacturing companies.

In 2009, with his empire heavily in debt, Merckle threw himself in front of a train.

3. Scott Coles, Chairman, Mortgages Ltd.
Died: Phoenix, 2008. 48 years old.

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(Image: AZCentral.com)

Coles chaired Mortgages Ltd., which used investor money to make last-second high-interest loans to commercial real estate developers. According to Arizona Central, the company had been founded by his father. Three weeks after Coles’ death, creditors forced Mortgages Ltd. into bankruptcy, indicating that the company had been facing hard times when Cole took his life. He is also reported to have been experiencing relationship trouble.

He died in his bedroom, of an overdose of alcohol, Oxycodone, and Ambien.

4. Zhang Shuhong, Factory Owner, Lee Der Industrial

Died: Foshan, China, 2007. 42(?) years old.

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Zhang owned Lee Der Industrial, which manufactured 967,000 Fisher-Price toys recalled by US-based Mattel after their paint was found to contain dangerous levels of lead. Chinese authorities prohibited Zhang from exporting toys to the United States, a business that had been central to his factory.

Two days after the ban, Zhang was found hanged in one of his warehouses.

5. Alex Widmer, CEO, Julius Baer
Died: Zuerich, Switzerland, 2008. 52 years old.

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Widmer took up his post in the third-largest Swiss bank in 2007. He opened offices in Jakarta and Moscow and built a new business model for the bank. In 2008, Julius Baer and other Swiss banks faced increased US and European scrutiny over supporting tax evasion.

The circumstances of Baer’s death remain concealed. The New York Times reported that family friends said it was a suicide, but Swiss police won’t confirm the claim. His company said it wasn’t related to the business of the bank.

6. Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, Founder, Access International Advisors
Died: New York, NY, 2008. 65 years old.

Madoff Investor Suicide

Fund manager de la Villehuchet had lost about $1.4 billion in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, according to the New York Times. He was found in his office “with wounds to his arms…and a trash can nearby to catch blood.”

7. Greg Maddock, CEO, Energex
Died: Brisbane, Australia, 2004. 50 years old.

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(Image: James Davies/The Age)

Energex CEO Greg Maddock was under government investigation in 2004 for misusing taxpayer funds. Politicians suspected Energex, a government-owned electricity supplier, of using funds for personal expenses.

After the investigation began, Maddock walked in front of a train, killing himself. In the political storm that followed, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie later accused Energex chairman Don Nissen of the wrongdoing, and said the government investigation played a role in Maddock’s suicide.

8. John E. Curtis, Jr., President/CEO, Luby’s Cafeteria, Inc.

Died: San Antonio, TX, 1997. 49 years old.

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Curtis had worked in finance at Luby’s for 18 years before being promoted to CEO. Two months after taking up the post, the well-regarded executive stabbed himself in the throat, shocking family, friends, and colleagues. The Nation’s Restaurant News reported that the death came unexpectedly, and his wide circle of mourners were still trying to find reasons for the tragedy after he died.

9. Riaan Potgieter, CEO, Prowealth
Died: Klein Windhoek, Namibia, 2008. 39 years old.

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Potgeiter, Prowealth’s principal, ran Namibia’s most prominent integrated financial services company. In eight years, Potgieter expanded the company into a full-service outfit offering portfolio management, insurance, accounting service, real estate, and other wealth management services.

He died of a single gunshot wound to the head in December 2008.

10. Kirk Wright, Principal, International Management Associates

Died: Union City, GA, 2008. 37 years old.

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Wright ran a hedge fund that later turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. According to FINAlternatives, he collected more than $155 million, returned $70 million to clients as part of the Ponzi, lost $31 million in the market, and kept millions to himself. He left town in 2005 after sending clients checks that bounced. Police arrested him in 2007.

He hanged himself in jail months before his sentencing was to take place.

11. Kirk Stephenson, COO, Olivant Advisors
Died: Berkshire, England. 47 years old.

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Stephenson was the COO of PE firm Olivant Advisors, which had 2.5% stake in Swiss bank UBS. Daily Mail sources report that Stephenson enjoyed a successful career, marriage, and social life, but that with the financial crisis, Stephenson succumbed to stress. He jumped in front of a train in September 2008.

12. Patrick Rocca, Owner, Accorp
Died: Castleknock, Ireland, 2009. 41 years old.

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Rocca, a successful Irish entrepreneur, property developer, and stock market investor, has been called the poster boy for Ireland’s Celtic Tiger. His active social life included friendships with heads of state, sports stars, musicians, and other moguls.

The financial crisis cost Rocca hundreds of millions of euros. In January 2009, he ended his life with a shot in the head.

If you suspect a loved one is feeling depressed, please refer to this site for signs of suicide risk. If you feel suicidal, please call a national suicide hotline.

  • Max Schofield

    I don’t how much effort was spent researching and writing this article but that could have been better spent on a more positive note that public could aspire to.

  • Serves to show everyone that status has nothing to do with real, actual, wealth.

  • Jannette

    Unfortunately, it often takes awareness of things like this for us to learn anything…so I appreciate the effort that went into this article.