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Equifax CEO Rick Smith out after massive data breach

Equifax Chairman and CEO Rick Smith has stepped down after the company’s massive data breach, the company said Tuesday.

The move, described as a retirement, is effective immediately. Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., the head of Equifax’s Asian operations has been named interim CEO, and board member Mark Feidler has been named non-executive chairman.

The news comes as trading of Equifax’s shares were suspended pending what was expected to be breaking news.

In a statement, Feidler said, “The Board remains deeply concerned about and totally focused on the cybersecurity incident.”

RELATED: Pressure builds on Equifax after breach

“We are working intensely to support consumers and make the necessary changes to minimize the risk that something like this happens again,” he said. “Speaking for everyone on the Board, I sincerely apologize. We have formed a Special Committee of the Board to focus on the issues arising from the incident and to ensure that all appropriate actions are taken.”

The sudden departure of Smith, who the company said is retiring, prompted at least one lawmaker in Washington, D.C., to grouse that he is avoiding appearing before the Senate Banking Committee in a hearing next week.

“A CEO walking out the door just days before he is to appear before Congress is an abdication of his responsibility, said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “This company has jeopardized the financial health and security of 143 million people, and they need to be held responsible. So I fully expect Mr. Smith to testify before the Banking Committee next week, regardless of the timing of his retirement.”

Equifax’s appointments appeared to pass over three top executives -- its chief  financial officer and the presidents of two of its largest business units -- who had recently sold company stock before the breach with disclosed to the public, raising quiestions about the propriety of the trading.

Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., who took over as interim CEO Tuesday, was most recently head of Equifax’s Pacific-Asia unit, where he was involved in the company’s largest acquisition, the purchase of Australia credit-tracking firm Veda.

Feidler, a private equity executive and longtime Equifax board member called Barros “an experienced leader with deep knowledge of our company and the industry. The Board of Directors has absolute confidence in his ability to guide the company through this transition.”

Equifax has been rocked by the breach, made public Sept. 7, that resulting in the compromising of the personal information of 143 million Americans. Congress has called hearings, the FBI is investigating the cyber theft, and dozens of state attorneys general are also probing the matter.

In a statement, Smith called his tenure at Equifax “an honor, and I’m indebted to the 10,000 Equifax employees who have dedicated their lives to making this a better company.”

“The cybersecurity incident has affected millions of consumers, and I have been completely dedicated to making this right,” he said. “At this critical juncture, I believe it is in the best interests of the company to have new leadership to move the company forward.”

Smith is expected to testify before Congress in early October.

-- Staff writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.

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AJC Business reporter Russell Grantham keeps you updated on the latest news about major companies, CEOs and public utilities in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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