General rule for the executive world, No. 292: if you're going to ask permission to have an affair with someone who works for you, be honest when you ask.
Here’s an interesting story from Joann S. Lublin and Christopher Weaver of the Wall Street Journal about the CEO of medical device company Stryker, who was asked to leave that company over an alleged affair with a flight attendant who worked on the company’s private plane. In the abstract, it’s not unusual for a well-placed executive to leave when an affair with a subordinate is discovered. The interesting thing is: CEO Stephen MacMillan asked a committee of the company’s board for approval to conduct the affair once his divorce was final. He (and his paramour) even followed the committee’s request that the flight attendant leave the company first.
Then the story gets even more complicated. The board commissioned an investigation and it turns out Mr. MacMillan’s affair with the flight attendant may have started before he even asked for permission. So, while MacMillan was taking an unusual approach by seeking approval for the romance, his possible lack of full candor in asking for that approval meant he “lost the confidence of some directors and was forced to resign” over the whole thing.
There’s a lesson, or more than one, in all of this. First, the old truism that successful office romances are almost impossible remains true. Second, (and we hope this is a rare case), if you decide to take the unusual step of seeking approval for an office romance, make sure the affair hasn’t started before you seek that permission.