Intel and the Problem with Covert Affairs

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Brian Krzanich has become the latest CEO to lose his job due to an inability to keep his marriage vows or comply with company policy and not diddle a subordinate. This is not some new behavior, I know of several other Intel CEOs that have had affairs and those that I don’t know of have generally been rumored to have had them. The problem is so rampant in technology that there is a book on it that I think any woman planning to get a job in this industry should read and then run screaming from the related job. It’s called Brotopia and when I first covered the book I highlighted Krzanich as a likely problem, I even created a list of people, and I predicted he would have to step down by midyear and that he was likely having an affair months ago. But he is far from alone, the VCs in the valley commonly require women entrepreneurs to have sex with them in exchange for funding and companies like Google are famous for this kind of behavior according to the book.

Certainly, Krzanich’s firing would indicate the rules are changing, but I could argue they actually changed back in the 80s when most companies in tech implemented zero tolerance policies for this behavior and then—apparently—gave their CEOs a “get out of jail free” card for it. That clearly didn’t end well for Krzanich, who is now a posterchild for bad judgement and, I expect, when he got home now jobless he found his personal belongings on the lawn with a nice written note from his wife’s divorce lawyer. He deserved much, much worse.

Let’s talk about the importance of fidelity, loyalty, and integrity this week and why folks like Brian Krzanich should never be managers, let alone CEOs.

Covert Affairs As An Executive Perk

I’ve long been aware that here in the valley executives seem to have the idea that having an affair is some kind of executive perk and that boards and CEOs (who generally are doing the same thing) look the other way. This isn’t just a potential discrimination and abuse problem—it reflects on ethics and integrity. On the discrimination and abuse side it can turn executives with power into predators. I could go down a list of influential men (Brotopia does that very well) who apparently walk around their companies with their privates out looking to plug them in to some slow moving attractive female employee.

In one of the firms I worked for, the head of HR used to bring in the hot female sales people and promise to help their careers if they’d have sex with him and our CEO at the time basically said—when he found out—“Boys will be boys.” And this was after that same CEO propositioned our head of marketing who promptly hired an attorney and walked away with $450K even though she’d been having an extramarital affair with one of our board members. This kind of crap so weakened the company that it was bought out and killed by Forrester.

But this is exactly the kind of behavior that board members should be looking to eliminate from positions of authority and not turning a blind eye to. Recall I went on record suggesting Krzanich might be having an affair based on his behavior months ago. It wasn’t hard to connect his lack of judgement and empathy to a pattern that generally would have an affair and why the board didn’t look for this during their due diligence before he was put in as CEO looks like negligence after the fact as a result.

But here is the question that more boards and managers should be considering. If a person will breach their marriage, how can they be trusted to adhere to their employment agreement, company policy, or avoid misusing company assets? Or, more simply, if their spouse (the person that should be closest to them) can’t trust them, why should their company?

Wrapping Up: Integrity Is Important

My view is that integrity is incredibly important in a leader. If they lack integrity, employees, customers, and investors can’t, and shouldn’t, trust them and—particularly if they can’t keep it in their pants—they become a huge corporate liability. Especially now.

Women are not taking this anymore and it isn’t just that these women are our wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers that we should stand with them—it just makes logical sense that folks like Brian Krzanich aren’t trustworthy and we shouldn’t have untrustworthy people working for us. It isn’t just that Krzanich shouldn’t have been CEO—he shouldn’t have been hired by Intel in the first place. And if companies don’t start getting this, we are going to lose a lot more employees and executives and we’ll have many more events like Tesla just experienced.

Something to think about this week.

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About Author

As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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