David Petraeus, meet Jack Welch

General David Howell Patraeus

What do you get when you mix a married, late-life male with near-godlike powers, over-sized ego, unlimited and unaccountable access to corporate jets, first class accommodations, global travels, and an unchecked drive for self-promotion, with a starstruck, attractive 40-something year old woman?

Well, clearly you get infidelity, indiscretion, vulnerability, and general ragnarök.

I am referring, of course, to the affair between General David Howell Petraeus and his hagiographer, Ms. Paula Broadwell, unfolding in all its real-time slow-motion splendor and gore.

Ms. Broadwell is the co-author with Mr. Vernon Loeb of All In: The Education of General David Petraeus — well actually, it appears that Mr. Loeb, a Washington Post jounalist and editor, was a ghost-writer, relegated to cumbersome work of actually writing stuff, with little or no access to the person he was writing about, while Ms. Broadwell was flying in and out of Afghanistan on Petraeus’ G-five jet (more about this later) and accompanying the general on a tour he made of European capitals.

Other people’s money

Frankly, I don’t know what to think about these kind of things. Should we pity General Petraeus and Mr. Jack Welch for having absolutely no ability to control themselves; or should we blame a system that allows alpha-males to project an image that, apparently, is irresistible to a certain group of women? Should we scorn the women who are drawn in by these alpha-males’ breast-thumping or should we pity them?

I don’t know. Certainly, as anyone who has been in a corporate jet (such as the military’s C37A and C37B, the equivalent of the famed Gulfstream V and Gulfstream G550,) knows, the trappings that come with stratospheric positions do act like powerful pheromones, sometimes even as aggregation pheromones. When General Patraeus invited Ms. Paula Broadwell to join him on his assigned corporate jet with the VIP interior (see the excellent picture in this article by Martha Raddatz at ABC OTUS news,) he stepped in the footsteps of legions of men before him, who had used other people’s money for seduction, including, of course, Mark Hurd and Jack Welch.

When it comes to fidelity, the reality is pretty straightforward. Power attracts as does admiration and flattery — something that anyone who has had his or her 30 year birthday ought to know. The trick to avoid trouble is simply to never put yourself in a position where you’re asking for trouble, and when General Patraeus and Ms. Boadwell initiated the complex human mating ritual by first expressing admiration (“I would like to write about you”) and power (“Let me show you my world,”) then demonstrating physical prowess (“I, too, can run one mile in 6 minutes”,) and culminating with around-the-world-in-first-class trips, they were clearly asking for trouble… And trouble they got.

Corporate governance as a counter-weight to nature of man

But I digress… My interest really is corporate governance, and on this subject my position on the Patraeus-Broadwell affair is quite clear. Shareholders (in this case the United States tax-payers) should never have to pay for company employees (or military staff) to exercise their seduction muscles or relieve their pent-up sexual tension.

Clearly, since man is essentially animals and what we are dealing with here is one of the strongest of all human instincts, I think corporate governance needs to assume that man will not be able to control itself in this matter and therefore human behavior must be regulated.

I am, of course, talking about corporate policies, which clearly, as demonstrated by the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, in the case of the United States military, needs a serious review (why would the United States tax payers ever pay for a biographer’s travel.)

However I am also talking about something more fundamental, because, evidently, the higher up we go in the command hierarchy in an organization, the less stringent the rules and regulations are applied (read more about this in this posting,) which leads me to conclude that the perhaps corporate governance around this area shouldn’t start with behavioral policies, regulations, and rules, but, rather, with the complete denial of perks such as travel perks and the right to develop autobiographies while on the corporation’s payroll.

In other words, perhaps it is time that we started cutting back on perks for our top-leadership, not just because they inherently are wasteful (they are!,) but also because they clearly increase the lack of self-control and, ultimately, dramatically increase the risk that we will have to deal with very expensive spontaneous explosions on the very highest level of organizations.

You will note that what I am talking about should be a embraced by business leaders such as Jack Welch, who themselves have for year espoused the view that slimmer organizations are better organization, justifying continuous campaigns of reduction in force and reductions in benefits for the minions in the organizations. I think it is perhaps about time that corporate and military leadership starts tasting their own medicine. Hopefully, the patient will be healthier from it.

Perks in the military? — Are you kidding?

On a side-note, it has always struck me as strange that the United States armed forces needs $50 million VIP transport planes, and certainly I don’t understand why the U.S. tax-payers should pay for some biographer to travel the globe in style.

In my view, if General Petraeus feel the need to ferry his biographer-cum-mistress around Asia and the Middle East, then he should reimburse the tax payers for the privilege. If he was required to pay a relatively modest $25,000 to $50,000 per trip for Ms. Broadwell’s, evidently frequent, sojourns to Asia and the Middle East, I am fairly certain that he would think twice about inviting her to join him on the C37. At seven or so fact-finding trips to Afghanistan alone, we are looking at a reimbursement of — at least — $175,000 to $350,000. Who knows, if nothing else, a bill on that magnitude might have caused Ms. Holly Petraeus, the cuckquean in the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, to question the true value-add of Ms. Broadwell.

Remarkably the C37s (the military version of the infamous G-fives that all CEOs lust for) are just one of many perks that the United States — for reasons that are certainly not clear to me — has chosen to bestow on the thirty or so four-star generals that it has on the payroll. Serious police escorts, for instance, appear to be common, such as General Petraeus’s escort of 28 police motorcycles as he traveled from his headquarter to an event in a nearby private residence — just so we are clear, this is a 28 person escort in an upscale neighborhood in the United States of America, where, frankly, I am not sure if there has been an assassination of a four-star general in the last 150 years. Certainly, I see no reason why a tax-payer should have to yield to Mr. Petraeus, his wife, and 28 motorcycle his motor cadre on his way to munch crab cakes and lamb chops at the annual Pirate Festival party held on the lawn of Ms. Jill Kelley, the so-called, socialite, who seems to be at the very center of the unfolding of the affair.

Likewise, personal chefs, personal aides, first class lodging, including palatial homes, body guards (having an entire army at your disposal is apparently not enough, private security forces are also needed,) housekeeping and gardening staff, and musical staff are deemed as essential for the job-performance, and if you reach the area of the stratosphere that General Petraeus operated in, you are considered a key regional commander and have access to the C-40Bs, the United States Air Force $70 million version of the Boeing 737-700 based Boeing Business Jet modified as a special mission aircraft, which, strangely, means that it is equipped with VIP beds, so I guess sleeping in style is somehow related to the special mission. Certainly, no roughing it here….

Jack Welch, eat your heart out!

’nuff said.

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