IT WAS never going to end any other way.
On Monday, Channel 7 prevailed over its disgruntled former employee Amber Harrison.
She didn’t slink away quietly, that’s for sure, and there was damage exacted as details of the affair enjoyed by Harrison and the network’s CEO, Tim Worner, came to light.
But, ultimately, the Boys Club walked away victorious.
Harrison, the employee the network desperately wished would go away, will face bankruptcy after being ordered to pay costs in the legal battle which has gripped corporate Australia in recent months.
When the Boys Club closes in – and boy did they close in on Harrison – no prisoners are spared.
It is why Harrison’s punishment for engaging in an extra-marital affair and refusing to be silenced or abiding the orders of the court is a reputation in tatters and, now, financial ruin too.
Harrison ought to serve as a cautionary tale to anyone else engaged in an extra-marital pursuit with a powerful man.
It is discomforting to recognise that Worner’s situation is likely as reassuring to his peers as Harrison’s is terrifying to hers.
His punishment amounts to the personal discomfort of having his indiscretions released to all and sundry.
Beyond that, the personal repercussions are negligible.
Worner, the more powerful player in the tryst, walks away, in effect, unscathed. He remains firmly ensconced in the CEO seat: his salary and bonus are untouched. He enjoys the full support of his board.
In all likelihood, rather than facing anything resembling social isolation, Worner will enjoy the sympathy of his peers.
What bad luck for Worner that his mistress was unwilling to walk away quietly? Didn’t she understand the rules of these flings?
Revelations in the newspapers this week alone indicate extra-marital relations are hardly a rarity inside corporations. That itself has been the case for time immemorial. And were these assignations entirely personal, it wouldn’t matter.
But when it takes place within a publicly-listed corporation and features the CEO as a key protagonist it is scandalous. More so when there is an obvious power discrepancy. And when the CEO’s involved, there is always a power discrepancy.
For some boards, a CEO engaging in a relationship that might well open the organisation to public ridicule may be cause for taking serious action. For some boards, that risk coming to fruition and thus requiring the full attention of the company’s senior executives would make the CEO’s position untenable.
Not for Seven West Media. Their immediate priority was not distancing itself from its CEO’s lack of judgement but protecting him from it.
The fact it may well have cost them a board member was inconsequential.
The night before Seven West Media released the findings of its independent review of Worner and Harrison’s relationship, Sheila McGregor resigned as a non-executive director.
She had been on the board just 19 months and has remained silent on the decision that was announced in a three-line statement to the market. The timing cannot be overlooked. Nor can the fact McGregor was one of just two women in that room.
Perhaps leaving was easier than fighting the men around the table? If that’s even remotely true for a director in the board room imagine the battle a lowly employee has on her hands should she take them on?
The company has spared no expense in fighting Harrison. It’s been QCs at every turn. There was a scathing op-ed by the company’s chair in a national broadsheet. Harrison reportedly relied on the legal representation of Julian Burnside QC on a pro bono basis.
At Burnside’s mere mention of the boys club he was rebuked swiftly by the presiding judge as well as the opposing QC. The inference was unwelcome. It was gratuitous and uncalled for.
And yet how can any rational mind reconcile the outcome from this sordid mess without recognising the power was entirely stacked to one side?
When it comes to Worner’s judgement shareholders are expected to have total confidence in him. They pay him handsomely because of it.
And yet they are meant to discard a spectacular lack of judgement that hasn’t just hypothetically derailed the organisation, but has actually dominated it all year? It’s curious.
Harrison was significantly more junior than Worner: she wasn’t paid for her strategic insight or expected to deliver commercial success. He was. And yet it is Harrison whom we are expected to hold responsible.
He is charged with running the whole show but can escape accountability when it all goes horribly wrong. She had no power but is saddled with total responsibility.
Had she exited the stage as the senior players at Seven had hoped and paid her to, it need not have ended this way. But she didn’t and that was unforgiveable.
It was always going to end this way because the boys club in corporate Australia is alive, well and totally impregnable.
This is an edited version of an opinion piece that first appeared on News.com.au.