Puritans in the Boardroom

Depending on how you count, Harry Stonecipher was the first to be canned because of Cupid. Stonecipher was 68 at the time (in 2005), married, and chief executive officer of Boeing. What did Stonecipher do that was so bad he was summarily dismissed? He had an affair with a female subordinate.
It was not, swore the board, the affair itself. Rather, said a board representative, it was “the circumstances surrounding the affair, we just thought there were some issues of poor judgment that … impaired [Stonecipher’s] ability to lead going forward.”
Mark Hurd was fired for similar cause (in 2011). He too was married and he too was chief executive officer of one of America’s best known companies, Hewlett Packard. Hurd was ensnared in a relationship with an “adult” movie actress, who ostensibly was hired as hostess at HP client events. In this case too the board denied it dismissed Hurd because of the affair per se. Rather it concluded that Hurd had used HP’s resources inappropriately – and lied in the process.
Nor, despite his best efforts, did the former CEO of Stryker , Stephen MacMillan, fare any better . MacMillan was forced out (in 2012) because the board was unhappy with how he handled his relationship with former flight attendant, a company employee, while he and his wife were getting a divorce. The board made clear MacMillan had “never violated any company policy nor any code of conduct.” Moreover, unlike Stonecipher and Hurd, MacMillan had explicitly sought the permission of the board to pursue his new relationship. To no avail – MacMillan was obliged by Stryker to resign.
What’s going on here? Are board members so straight-laced they cannot conceive of a leader who strays from his marriage? Hardly. What they worry about in new and different ways are the new and different ways personal behavior can become a professional liability. The thought of even one scandalous Facebook post is enough to convert 21st century boards into 17th century puritans.

One comment

  1. How deliciously gossipy! AND, I daresay interesting and provocative. I think there is more puritanism left in the US, Boardroom and everywhere else, than people realize.

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