Infidelity in the Corporation

Being a high-powered CEO, having a wife and a mistress, used to be a fine state of affairs.  But things have changed.  Now this CEO could lose his job because of the affair.

It starts out fine.  He has it all–a responsible, suitable wife; a hot affair with a sexy mistress; a powerful, high-paying CEO job; and respect from the community, his church, his family and his company.

Then poof–it’s all gone.  He’s fired by the company, no job, no paycheck; his wife files for divorce; his mistress isn’t so interested anymore; and the church isn’t begging him to serve on the board of trustees.

What went wrong?  Lying.

Affairs = Lies

Not lying about having an affair.  That’s OK.  But lying about something that involves company business.   That’s not OK.  But he had to do it because it was necessary to cover up the affair.

This is no surprise because an affair always means lies, cover-ups, stories, distortions of meaning.  So it’s not shocking that sleeping with a woman who was not his wife led to a lie to someone, sometime.  Most likely, lies to many people.

The trip-up that led to getting fired was lying about something that involved the company.  Today company boards of directors, human resources departments, PR departments and co-workers feel much more responsible and at risk for truthfulness in all aspects of the company’s business.

There’s also much more awareness that if someone lies about one thing, even something relatively minor that was only done to cover up an affair (and nobody cares about the affair itself except as good gossip), he might well lie about something else.  And that something else could be big:  phony sales numbers, bribery, kickbacks.  Then the board and the HR department will be asked–How come you didn’t pay attention to the first lie?  So now they’re paying attention.

The Consequences of Being Fired

For our big CEO, getting fired sends the dominoes tumbling.  His ego is deflated because he has lost his source of power, money and admiration.  His wife, who may or may not have known about the affair before, may file for divorce because now that the affair is public she feels humiliated and angry.  His mistress loses interest because her lover’s power and money was part of the attraction and now he is an unemployed bungler with weak prospects.  The big hospital board which was begging him to serve as a trustee has stopped calling because his reputation is tarnished and he has less money to give.

What’s to learn from all this?  Not to encourage affairs, but just to mention–if you’re the CEO having the affair, be careful what you lie about.  In the last few years several CEO’s have lost their jobs because of lies on expense reports.  That is, having dinner with a mistress but naming someone else on the reimbursement request.

If you are the woman sleeping with a company big shot, try to think about what attracts you to this man.  Could it all be gone in an instant because of lying? What then?

If you’re his wife, all that can be said is stay alert.

Likewise, whatever workplace you’re in, stay alert.

Standards Have Changed

Things have changed in the last 10, 20 30 years. Sex has not changed.  The attraction of newness has not changed.  The attraction of the forbidden has not changed.  What our religious and societal values say about cheating has not changed. The attraction of money and power has not changed.

But laws, standards, and taboos, have changed.

For example, married or not, it is not OK to be sleeping with a subordinate because the higher level employee may favor the lower level employee over others on the same level and that would be discrimination.

Much more about a company’s business and its employees must be disclosed now.  It’s a lot harder and a lot less advisable to hush things up and hope they’ll go away.

What has also changed is how we judge corporate reputations. What an executive does in his personal life does affect the reputation of the company. The company’s PR department has to get involved. And they have to tell the truth.

How willing we are to talk about formerly taboo topics has also changed.  Thirty years ago, being openly gay was the rare exception. 1982 was the breakpoint year when this disease, at first not even called AIDS, began to appear in more and more people and it was unavoidable to recognize that most of the people afflicted with, at that time a fatal disease, were gay men. The laws covering sexual harassment, fair employment practices, board oversight responsibilities, and disclosure of material information have changed.

Mark Hurd, now former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, lost his job because of lying that originated with the need to cover up an affair.  Julie Roehm, an executive at Wal-Mart, lost her job because of company ethics violations that started with an affair with a lower level employee.

Some other very high profile examples of this include the ‘business’ of a political candidacy.

McCain, Gingrich, Edwards, Herman Cain–All had affairs and/or multiple marriages that were acknowledged to have started as, or were likely to have started as, an affair.  Herman Cain was forced to drop out of the Republican presidential primary because of revelations about an affair.  It was generally acknowledged that Newt Gingrich’s multiple marriages and affairs negatively affected his chance to win the Republican nomination and in fact he did not receive the nomination. John McCain’s second marriage had every indication of starting as an affair. And, in fact, he lost the election.  Charges against John Edwards for misusing campaign funds ended in a mistrial.  But the cause of the possible misuse was to cover up an affair.

The fantastic feelings and hot sex, especially at the beginning of an affair, usually don’t lend themselves to rational thinking.  But, if you are involved in an affair or thinking about it, try to think of the possible consequences, such as losing your job, before you leap.