Any ambitious manager with the top job in his sights used to know better than to ruin his chances with an untimely divorce.From the Duke of Windsor to William Agee, marrying The Woman I Love has made it tough to hang on to The Job I Love.
If the CEO of the United States could shed and rewed, why not the CEO of a 500 company?
Says Linda Robinson, 36, who is both the second wife of American Express Chairman James Robinson, 53, and the chief executive of Robinson Lake Lerer & Montgomery, a public relations firm: “How can the board of directors pass over a divorced candidate for CEO?
“There’s no longer a prejudice against divorce and remarriage—almost the reverse. ” (It should be mentioned that in the corporate stratosphere, the phenomenon of divorce still pertains largely to men: The two women CEOs of 500 companies, Katharine Graham of the Washington Post Co.
In some cases the man with the old, nice, matronly first wife is looked down on. and Linda Wachner of Warnaco, are both widows.) Powerful men are beginning to demand trophy wives.
As Nancy Brinker, 42, size 10 and 6 feet tall with her boots on, puts it candidly: “Trying to stay precious is not easy.
I work out one hour a day at aerobics, I diet rigorously, and I play polo with my husband.
The second wife certifies her husband’s status and, if possible given the material she has to work with, dispels the notion that men peak sexually at age 18.
This trophy does not hang on the wall like a moose head—she works. For starters, she often has her own business, typically an enterprise serious enough to win respect for her but not so large as to overshadow her husband.
This holiday week, Fortune is publishing some of our favorite stories from our archives.
The following article, which was published in our August 28, 1989 issue, focuses on the growing acceptance of divorce among Corporate America’s power elite and the rise of the so-called “trophy wife.” Such second wives, reported Julie Connelly, are often “a decade or two younger than her husband, sometimes several inches taller, beautiful, and very often accomplished.” Most importantly, a second wife “certifies her husband’s status.” His temper might perhaps be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favor of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman; but she knew that this kind of blunder was too common for any sensible man to be lastingly hurt by it.
Eugene Jennings, a Michigan State University professor and an expert on managerial life, estimates that in the 1980s, 12% to 15% of CEOs have been divorced, vs. In the corporate world, as in much of the rest of society, it took the roaring Eighties to make divorce fully respectable.