Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 9, 2005

Clinton, Stonecipher, and Double Standards

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:14 pm

Back in 1997, at the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (which I called “fornigate”), many of Clinton’s defenders said that whatever Bill Clinton had done with Monica Lewinsky was part of his “private life” and thus should have no bearing on his political/public life or his continuance as President. In response, many of Clinton’s opponents said this was a double standard, claiming that (for example), any CEO who had an affair with an underling would be fired immediately. In response to that response, many of Clinton’s defenders said that was baloney; that corporate CEOs have affairs all the time and (in effect) the President ought to be able to also.

Now we can see who’s right.

This past Sunday, Boeing’s Board of directors asked for and received the resignation of President and CEO Harry Stonecipher, a mere 9 days after being informed that he was having an extramarital affair. Here’s an except from Boeing’s press release:

CHICAGO, March 7, 2005 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] announced today that its Board of Directors asked for and received the resignation of President and CEO Harry Stonecipher on Sunday, March 6. … Stonecipher will also leave the company’s Board; all changes are effective immediately.

The Board actions were taken following an investigation by internal and external legal counsel of the facts and circumstances surrounding a personal relationship between Stonecipher and a female executive of the company who did not report directly to him.

The Board ordered an immediate and comprehensive investigation of the matter after Platt received information that was sent anonymously to him and to the company’s legal and ethics leaders 10 days ago. The investigation determined the relationship was consensual and had no effect on the conduct of the company’s business. The investigation also determined that neither the career nor the compensation of the female executive was influenced by this relationship.

Clinton’s defenders claimed his affair did not affect his actions as President; his critics said it called into question his (moral?) judgement and therefore did call into question is ability to be President. Let’s see how the Boeing board dealt with this issue in Stonecipher’s case:

“The Board concluded that the facts reflected poorly on Harry’s judgment and would impair his ability to lead the company,” said Platt.

“The resignation was in no way related to the company’s operational performance or financial condition, both of which remain strong. However, the CEO must set the standard for unimpeachable professional and personal behavior, and the Board determined that this was the right and necessary decision under the circumstances,” he said.

What about the woman involved? Is there some sort of double standard, or will she be fired too? According to this article in the Miami Herald, the are investigating her as well, and she might be fired also.

Here’s a rather, umm, interesting point of view:

Aerospace analyst Paul Nisbet of JSA Research .questioned the need to get rid of Stonecipher. “It’s a board that’s become oversly sensitized by all the negative publicity about Boeing employees and their ethics, and they reacted more strongly that I think was appropriate,” he said.

He said he expects the company to choose one of its strong internal candidates, Mulally or Albaugh, but expressed concern that ethics might become a preoccupying factor in the CEO search.

“The one possible impact is that in their quest to find a squeaky-clean guy, they may have to take someone who’s not as well-qualified,” he said.

So, is he saying that CEOs who don’t have affairs are less qualified? Is having an affair, or at least openness to it, to be a requirement according to Mr. Nisbet?

Let me put that another way: If you take Nisbet’s statement and replace the words “squeaky-clean guy” with “Black” or “woman,” what would that make Nisbet? So, how are we men-who-don’t-have affairs supposed to think Nisbet regards us?

UPDATE: In Europe, they still think we’re too prudish.

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