Equifax CEO steps down in the wake of damaging data breach

Mike Stewart, Associated Press

This Saturday, July 21, 2012, photo shows the Equifax Inc. headquarters in Atlanta. On Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, credit reporting agency Equifax ousted CEO Richard Smith in an effort to clean up the mess left by a damaging data breach that exposed highly sensitive information about 143 million Americans.

NEW YORK — Equifax CEO Richard Smith stepped down Tuesday, less than three weeks after the credit reporting agency disclosed a damaging data breach that exposed highly sensitive information for about 143 million Americans.

His departure follows those of two other high-ranking executives who left in the wake of the company’s admission that hackers exploited a software flaw that it did not fix to access Social Security numbers, birthdates and other personal data that provide the keys to identify theft.

Smith, who had been CEO since 2005, will also leave the chairman post.

Equifax said Smith was retiring, but he will not receive his annual bonus and other potential retirement-related benefits until the company’s board concludes an independent review of the data breach. If the review does not find Smith at fault, he could walk away with a retirement package of at least $18.48 million, along the value of the stock and options he was paid out over his 12-year tenure. The board also could “claw back” any cash or stock bonuses he may have received, if necessary.

Smith, who made almost $15 million in salary, bonuses and stock last year, will be able to stay on the company’s health plan for life.

Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., most recently president of the Asia Pacific region, was named interim CEO, and board member Mark Feidler was appointed non-executive chairman. Equifax said it will look both inside and outside the company for a permanent CEO.

Even with the departures of three top executives, Equifax is still facing several inquiries and class-action lawsuits, including congressional investigations, queries by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as several state attorneys general.

Three executives, none of them among those who have left, were found to have sold stock for a combined $1.8…

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