Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher poses next to a model of the future Boeing 7E7 Dreamliner jet, prior to a press conference in Paris, September 23, 2004. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauvinier)
The Boeing Company, like many American companies, does not usually fire people for having consensual affairs with fellow staff members, as long as one partner does not report to the other. But this week the Boeing board of directors made headlines by forcing out its president and CEO, Harry Stonecipher, for having an extramarital affair with an employee. The affair broke no specific company rules but the Board felt it might put Boeing in an embarrassing and damaging situation. The Board's decision raises questions about how standards are changing in the post-Enron world, and it shows how company directors are under pressure to act on things they once might have swept under the rug.
"The last Boeing CEO was forced out because of ethical and moral scandals. They were, however, procurement scandals. That is, they were about the business of Boeing. This scandal is an indiscretion, it is about personal behavior. If you're a director, how are you supposed to distinguish between those kinds of ethics?"
"It would be different if he hadn't been brought in specifically to save Boeing from future embarrassment. This is the guy who came in, set up a new code of conduct, set up a new ethics system and asked all of his employees to abide by certain new rules and to not do anything that would cast Boeing in an unfavorable light."
"I think the role of the CEO in a big public company like this is unique. The CEO is not just one of the boys. I think you can go so far as to say the CEO today of a company like this has to be the shepherd of his flock. He is a public face. They are exposed to a public exposure when something like this happens, and it can damage the company from top to bottom."
"It reminds me of all of this paroxysms of virtue that sweep through America. You have to have the courage perhaps to take a more moderate view of this, say, 'Harry, this is not a good thing to do.' Everywhere there are these enormous efforts to show we are more virtuous than this company, we are more virtuous than that and it cannot help reeking as hypocrisy. "