Boeing’s CEO Should Go

Elizabeth MacDonald
I ordinarily don’t care if people at work have sex.

You can't ever legislate out of existence human attraction, and I often pray for the day when these insufferably preachy media screeches howling about sex scandals like the Boeing affair, these self-appointed heat-seeking missiles of righteousness against evil, will take their snootfuls of venom elsewhere.

But the Stonecipher affair is pretty bad for a variety of reasons.

It’s pretty bad that Harry Stonecipher, 68, who was forced out by Boeing’s board for having a consensual affair with a female executive, is married with children. Moreover, it’s pretty strange for him to be sailing into the job to clean up shop when he couldn’t follow the most basic of ethics rules.

Not having sex with work colleagues when you’re a CEO is the most basic of ethics rules because, most importantly of all, when news of such affairs spread, the damage to morale can be corrosive and irreparable and that hurts a company’s operations, and possibly its stock.

Why? Because sex at work often has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power.

Unless you're on the same level as a CEO, which by the position's very nature means never, it's really hard for these affairs to be considered wholly consensual, no matter how enlightened or progressive one may think they are.

Yes, businessmen are not public officials backing a social or moral agenda, and yes, Stonecipher isn’t in trouble here for stealing money.

And yes, I’d rather outsource to upper Mongolia overpaid blowhards like Bernie Ebbers, who back in 1997 boasted during his run at MCI that he can outbid any rival for a merger with WorldCom’s stock. Such flippant regard for his company’s shares as cheap merger currency should have been the first fire-engine red flag on Wall Street that the WorldCom story was going to be about greed.

But the fact remains that Boeing has few customers, making it doubly important for it to pay strict attention to its reputation. And its biggest customer of all is the Pentagon, which essentially is spending taxpayer money, making that emphasis triply important.

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Elizabeth MacDonald is a senior editor at "Forbes" magazine and a regular panelist on "Forbes on FOX."