Like you, I’ve been reading about Roger Ailes at Fox News. I have no idea if any of the allegations about him is true. But I do have an experience — one I’ve kept secret for two decades — that illustrates how different a CEO’s public image can be from his behavior in private. And I have witnessed how a CEO’s supporters see a completely different person than his victims see.
Twenty years ago, as a young man with a wife and two small children, I urgently needed a job. I canvassed my friends for leads. One, a senior executive in human resources for a very large company, suggested I meet her former boss and dear friend who was chief executive of a large system of hospitals and physicians. I trusted her completely and knew if she said “Jack” was a great guy, I could take that to the bank! He was a living legend in the healthcare industry. Surely one person in his vast network would have a job opening.
My friend said she would alert Jack to expect my call. Sure enough, he picked up the phone right away. His days are very busy, he said, so he invited me to dinner. Meet him at his condo at 6 o’clock and we’ll leave from there. I wore my best suit and carried an updated resume.
His condo building was nondescript. I remember thinking that for a guy who makes over $600,000 a year, this is a really ordinary place. Over the intercom Jack invited me up to his apartment for a drink. I was taken aback by being invited into his home without having first met him. He greeted me warmly and told me this was a beach place for him; his wife lived in their main home in the mountains. The place had little furniture and the walls were bare. I remember walking around the apartment with a drink, and Jack was constantly refilling my glass. I mentioned dinner, but he changed the subject. Increasingly, conversation felt awkward and I began to feel uncomfortable.
Finally, we drove in his car to a Japanese restaurant. He was very interested in me, but ignored my prompts to discuss job hunting. After dinner he drove us along the beach and showed me where he goes surfing. My discomfort rose. Seaside rides are not part of a standard job interview.
At the shore he slowed down to a walk and intensely watched the young boys hanging out by the bathroom. He told me he knew all of them, some very well. And, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, he nonchalantly gave me a running commentary on a group of kids who apparently were his boyfriends.
It hit me like a brick. As I sat next to him, this 52-year-old CEO was cruising for sex with boys 10 to14 years old, and had done so many times. The barebones apartment was a sex pad where he took the boys and maybe men like me.
He had carefully laid a trap for me. I was young and hungry for a job. He was older, richer and in complete control of the situation. Starting with meeting me at his apartment, he had a superior dominant role and tried to use intimidation to force me to do as he wanted. On the long hour and half drive back home I was in total shock.
I have not talked about this humiliating event for a long time. Even though I had done nothing wrong, it has been my dark secret of shame. I now realize that I did not at first read the signals sent out by predator Jack. He was highly successful, respected and even beloved CEO, but simultaneously he had a dark side to his personality. He was a bully without a conscience who knew how to sail through corporate hiring and promotion screens.
The Roger Ailes matter brings back these memories. Our society is built on a social contract that requires subordinates — in business, the church, the military or academia — to respect and obey their bosses. The contract does not give bosses license to sexually exploit those subordinates. We expect everyone to follow the rules, and we cling to our culture’s myth that men in power behave the same in private as they do in public. Years after my encounter with Jack as a turnaround specialist working with many companies, I observed firsthand – that this striking duality in the personalities of corporate chieftains never ends well.
About the Author
Chas Klivans builds businesses and is based in Southern California.