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Top Swiss firms pay respects to ‘formative’ business leader Fritz Gerber

Pharmaceutical giant Roche and Zurich Insurance have paid their respects to business executive Fritz Gerber, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 91. 

“Fritz Gerber was one of the most influential business leaders in Switzerland during a period of formative development for the country’s modern, open economy,” Zurich Insurance said in a statement on Monday.

Born on March 22, 1929, in Huttwil, canton Bern, Gerber worked for the insurance firm for almost 40 years, including 17 years as chief executive officer and 18 years as chairman of the board of directors. 

“At Zurich, his leadership was characterized by a far-sightedness, a strategic mindset and an ability to bring out the best in people. He significantly contributed to Zurich’s strategic positioning and commercial success,” said Zurich Chairman Michel M. Liès.

Roche also described Gerber as a “formative figure”. He worked for the Basel-based pharma giant for more than two decades shaping Roche’s development into a leading global healthcare company. He was Group CEO (1978-1998) and chairman of the board (1978-2001) and remained closely associated with the company as honorary chairman.

“Under his leadership, Roche’s Group structures were fundamentally renewed and decentralized– ranging from focusing on the core businesses to modernizing the capital structure. This created a fundamental change at Roche that still encourages entrepreneurial thinking today, and empowers employees to make their mark,” the firm said in a statement.

During his time at Roche, Gerber was behind biotechnology acquisitions such as the majority shareholding in Genentech at the beginning of the 1990s. He also led the takeover of Boehringer Mannheim, which ensured that Roche has become one of the world’s leading molecular and laboratory diagnostics groups.