Published on: November 14, 2012by Kevin Coupe
What do the Central Intelligence Agency, Waffle House, Lockheed Martin, Best Buy, Restoration Hardware, and Hewlett Packard have in common?
All, according to various reports, have been run by men who have had romantic relationships with people who worked for them in some capacity. And in almost every case, the men have lost their jobs as a result. (Joe W. Rogers Jr., of Waffle House, remains in his job. For now.)
Now, not all these cases are created equal. As I wrote when Gary Friedman of Restoration Hardware was fired, the woman in question was single, Friedman had been divorced for years, and there were no charges of sexual harassment, no allegations that Friedman did anything improper, immoral or illegal. Nobody was married, nobody was cheating. There might have been a question of judgement, but I'm not sure it rose to the level of being a firing offense.
And in the matter of David Petraeus, military hero and director of the CIA, the mistress was not an employee. She was his biographer.
But let's be clear here.
It seems to me that every senior executive needs to understand that we don't live in a "Mad Men" world anymore. These guys can't be messing around with female employees, can't even be flirtatious, can't be sending salacious emails, and should not be doing anything that calls their judgement into question. Because beyond the obvious moral issues, their actions will see the light of day. Their emails will be publicized. Their character will be assailed. Their careers will be derailed. And it may take years to find redemption. (Just ask Bill Clinton, who kept his job but lost much respect, though he is viewed far more sympathetically these days.)
I happen to believe what Woody Allen, who certainly can himself be accused of making questionable romantic decisions, once said: "The heart wants what the heart wants." Sometimes, however, it is not the heart that drives these decisions. Or the brain. (Think lower.)
I am so tired of reading stories about people who have reached the highest levels of influence who seem to not understand these basic facts of 21st century life.
In some ways, I feel bad for some of them. In the case of Petraeus, it is a shame that the country has lost his service, and that a man who seemed to carry himself with enormous dignity now finds himself caricatured in tabloid headlines and parodied by late night comics.
I am reminded of the wonderful quote from the Irish writer Brendan Behan, who once said that "the big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less."
This kind of sex is costing these people a lot. It is costing their companies a lot. It is costing their families a lot.
These executives have to learn to use their heads, and keep it in their pants.
- KC's View: