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Freddie Mac CFO Received Support From HR in Days Before His Death

April 24, 2009
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On Tuesday, April 21, Freddie Mac acting CFO David Kellermann cleared his weekly schedule of appointments, delegated power to a subordinate and, at the behest of a human resource executive, took off for a few days of much-needed rest.

Early the next morning, Kellermann’s wife found him dead after he had reportedly hanged himself in his suburban Washington, D.C., home.

Kellermann’s apparent suicide highlights the challenges employers face when trying to prevent employees from reaching a breaking point—especially during the current financial crisis, workplace experts say.

In the days leading up to Kellermann’s death, Freddie Mac HR chief Paul George expressed concern to Kellermann that he was spending too much time at work and was physically and emotionally exhausted from having to manage the mortgage giant’s finances after the federal government seized its assets and ousted its top executives in September.

The company lost more than $50 billion in 2008, and the Treasury Department has spent $45 billion to keep it afloat. Last month, David Moffett, Freddie Mac’s government-appointed chief executive, resigned in frustration over strict oversight.

In recent weeks, Kellermann had been working feverishly in preparation for disclosing the company’s first-quarter results. According to a company source familiar with the matter, Kellermann met regularly with HR executives on a host of management issues and, in those meetings, discussed the stress he was feeling.

In addition to taking time off, the company had talked about providing Kellermann with additional manpower to help him with his workload. The company had been conducting a search for a CFO and considered Kellermann for the job.

Before Kellermann took his temporary leave, the company assigned CFO duties to Denny Fox, acting principal accounting officer, and Rob Maillouz, acting corporate controller.

After Kellermann’s death became public early Wednesday, interim CEO John A. Koskinen led a town-hall meeting with employees at the company’s McLean, Virginia, headquarters, where most of the company’s 5,000 employees work. He urged employees to reach out to counselors provided through the company’s employee assistance program, a spokesman said.

For more than 10 years, Freddie Mac has had an on-site counselor as part of an employee assistance program provided by Washington-based EAP Cope. Executives at Cope would not comment on Kellermann’s mental state before his apparent suicide.

“I can say across the board, in the process of providing services to employees of various organizations, it is clear we are seeing the effects the economy is having on individuals,” said Francie Crosby, a licensed professional counselor and certified employee assistance professional with Cope. “People are feeling much more stress.”

In an interview with Workforce Management in January, Ari Kiev, a psychiatrist who advises hedge funds on workforce psychology issues, said companies can put processes in place to recognize signs of depression among people who are “crying for help.”

Ultimately, however, such interventions can only minimize, not eliminate, the chance that an employee will kill himself.

“Generally, though, even people who are in treatment and on antidepressants kill themselves,” Kiev said. “It’s so difficult to predict who is going to do it.”

It is important for companies to look back on employee suicides to see how or if a person’s work contributed to their suicide.

“You have to do a psychological post-mortem,” Kiev said, “and determine what are the clues people missed, what are the warning signs.”

Kellermann, 41, was a senior vice president, corporate controller and principal accounting officer before being named acting CFO in September. He had been with Freddie Mac for more than 16 years. Freddie Mac has not named a replacement, a spokesman said.

—Jeremy Smerd

Workforce Management’s online news feed is now available via Twitter.

 

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