Office romance has given us Bill and Melinda and Barack and Michelle — and ended CEO tenures. Here’s a rundown of the most famous and infamous workplace relationships.

Jewel Samad/Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama (left) and former First Lady Michelle Obama (right).
  • McDonald’s board voted to fire CEO Steve Easterbrook on November 1 over a relationship he had with an employee.
  • Major corporations tend to have policies on disclosing romantic relationships and forbidding relationships between direct supervisors and their employees.
  • If a policy is violated and a boss has a romantic relationship with a subordinate, it can result in the termination of an executive, as in the cases of Lincoln Centre’s former president Jed Bernstein and Intel’s former CEO Brian Krzanich.
  • Despite the risks, workplace relationships happen – in government, in media, in private companies, and in public companies too.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

McDonald’s board voted to fire CEO Steve Easterbrook on November 1 over a relationship he had with an employee.

Easterbrook “violated company policy and demonstrated poor judgment involving a recent consensual relationship with an employee,” a McDonald’s press release stated.

Major corporations tend to have policies on disclosing romantic relationships and forbidding relationships between direct supervisors and their employees. If a policy is violated and a boss has a romantic relationship with a subordinate, it can result in the termination of an executive, as in the case of Lincoln Centre’s former president Jed Bernstein, Intel’s former CEO Brian Krzanich, and now McDonald’s former CEO Easterbrook.

Despite the risks, office romances happen. Sometimes, they result in long relationships for powerful couples, as in the cases of Michelle and Barack Obama who met early in their careers at law firm Sidley Austin LLP and Bill and Melinda Gates at Microsoft.

Other times, the power dynamics of office relationships are problematic, with relationships being or becoming coercive.

Here’s a rundown of the most famous and infamous workplace relationships.


McDonald’s — Steve Easterbrook & employee

Scott Olson/Getty ImagesFormer McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook.

On November 1, the McDonald’s board voted to fire CEO Steve Easterbrook over his consensual relationship with an employee.

Easterbrook “violated company policy and demonstrated poor judgment involving a recent consensual relationship with an employee,” McDonald’s press release stated in the announcement that he had “separated from the Company.”

Source: Business Insider


Theranos — Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani

Justin Sullivan/Getty, Stephen Lam/Reuters, Business InsiderElizabeth Holmes (left) and Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani (right).

Disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes dated former company president and COO Sunny Balwani. The relationship was kept under wraps.

“She was lying to her board about this romantic relationship that she was having with the number two of the company, who by the way, was also about 20 years older,” Wall Street reporter John Carreyrou, who authored the book “Bad Blood” exposing Theranos, told Business Insider.

Both Holmes and Balwani were charged with fraud in 2018. Holmes is now married to William Evans, the heir to Evans Hotel Group.

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider, SEC


Bendix Corporation — William Agee & Mary Cunningham

Mario Suriani/AP ImagesWilliam Agee (right) and Mary Cunningham (left) in 1983.

In 2018, The New York Times categorised William Agee and Mary Cunningham’s relationship as “arguably the first sex scandal in corporate America.”

Mary Cunningham joined auto parts manufacturer Bendix in 1979 as CEO William Agee’s executive assistant. She was then promoted to vice president of strategic planning. During her time at Bendix, Cunningham has to manage rumours that she was having a relationship with her boss. She left in the company in 1980. By 1982, the couple had married.

Cunningham has always maintained that her and Agee’s romantic relationship only began after she left the company, which she reiterated in her 2018 New York Times profile titled “Before There Was #MeToo, There Was Mary Cunningham.”

“This interview isn’t easy … I’m reliving experiences from 1980 that never should have happened,” Cunningham said at the end of her profile.

Sources: New York Times, New York Times


News Corporation — Rupert & Wendi Deng Murdoch

Evan Agostini/GettyRupert Murdoch (left) and Wendi Deng Murdoch (right) in 2006.

Rupert Murdoch acquired Star TV in Asia in 1993. Wendi Deng was a junior executive at Star TV in 1997 when she met Murdoch. Before marrying Murdoch in 1999, she quit her post, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Post reported that Deng maintained a non-official role at News Corporation at the beginning of her marriage. The couple separated in 2013.

“I never really quit work,” Deng told Vogue in 2016. She has invested in Uber, Snap, and Warby Parker.

Source: Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, Vogue


The Sunday Times — Harold Evans & Tina Brown

ReutersHarold Evans (right) and Tina Brown (left) in 2000.

Tina Brown began contributing to the Sunday Times as a reporter after graduating from Oxford in 1974. There she met editor Harold Evans, and the two began an affair. Brown subsequently left the publication, and the couple was married in 1981. Brown went on to become the editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, and the founding editor of The Daily Beast.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Guardian, The New York Times


White House — Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky

The White House/APPresident Bill Clinton (right) and Monica Lewinsky (left) in 1995.

Monica Lewinsky began as a White House intern in 1995. President Bill Clinton began an affair with her that year – it continued for two years, and came to light nationally in 1998.

In Lewinsky’s essay “#MeToo and Me” in “Vanity Fair’s Women on Women,” Lewinsky writes about how the #MeToo movement has shaped her understanding of the affair.

“I-we-owe a huge debt of gratitude to the #MeToo and Time’s Up heroines. They are speaking volumes against the pernicious conspiracies of silence that have long protected powerful men when it comes to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and abuse of power,” Lewinsky wrote.

“In 2014, in an essay for Vanity Fair, I wrote that following: ‘Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.’ I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that lead there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege,” Lewinsky wrote.

Source: TIME, Vanity Fair’s Women on Women, Vox


Priceline — Darren Huston & employee

Michael Seto/Business InsiderFormer Priceline CEO Darren Huston

Darren Huston resigned as CEO of Priceline, now Booking Holdings Inc., in 2016 when a company investigation found that he was having an affair with an employee. The employee was not under his direct supervision, according to CNBC and Fortune. Huston received no severance, according ot MarketWatch.

Source: CNBC, Fortune,MarketWatch.


NASA — William Oefelein & Lisa Nowak

NASA/ReutersOfficial NASA portraits of astronauts William Oefelein (right) and Lisa Nowak (left).

Astronauts William Oefelein and Lisa Nowak worked together at NASA. They met while training in the space shuttle program in 1996, and had an affair from 2004 to 2006, according to TIME.

In 2007, Nowak drove from Houston to Orlando to confront Ofelein’s new girlfriend, Air Force captain Colleen Shipman. Nowak brought various weapons – including a BB gun and a steel mallet – to her planned confrontation, and brought diapers with her on her road trip to elimate the need for pit stops, according to TIME.

Nowak attacked Shipman with pepper spray; Nowak was ultimately arrested by police, and through a plea deal was able to avoid jail time and instead serve one year of probation, according to TIME.

Both Oefelein and Nowak were fired from NASA after the incident.

Sources: TIME, Reuters


Lycée La Providence — Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron

AP Photo/Michel EulerEmmanuel Macron (left) and Brigitte Macron (right)

Brigitte was Macron’s high school teacher in Amiens when he was 15-years-old. The future French president married his former teacher in 2007.

Source: Business Insider


Mayor’s Office, City of Detroit — Kwame Kilpatrick & Christine Beatty

Bryan Mitchell/AP ImagesKwame Kilpatrick (left) and Christine Beatty (right) at a 2008 hearing.

Former Mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick had an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize for obtaining and exposing thousands of text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty in 2008.

He served as mayor from 2001 until 2008. According to The New York Times, Kilpatrick resigned in 2008 “after he lied under oath during a police whistle-blower lawsuit and approved an $US8.4 million settlement to try to cover it up.”

Kilpatrick is currently serving a 28-year jail sentence as part of a larger corruption scandal. In March 2013, he was convicted on charges of extortion and racketeering, according to The New York Times.

Sources: New York Times, The Pulitzer Prizes


Capitol Hill — Newt & Callista Gingrich

Daniel Acker/ReutersNewt Gingrich (left) and Callista Gingrich (right) in 2011.

Newt Gingrich served as minority whip – an elected assistant to their party’s floor leader – in the 101, 102, and 103rd congresses (from 1989 to 1995). In 1993, he met Callisa Bisek, who was a staffer of Representative Steve Gunderson. The couple started a six year affair, while Gingrich was still married, Bisek admitted under oath in 1999. They married in 2000.

Source: Forbes, Salon, Chicago Tribune, The New Yorker


Lincoln Centre — Jed Bernstein & employee

Mike Segar/ReutersFormer Lincoln Centre President Jed Bernstein in 2015.

Jed Bernstein resigned as President or Lincoln Centre, home of the Metropolitan Opera, in 2016 after an anonymous complaint exposed his relationship with a subordinate. The relationship was consensual, according to The New York Times, and Bernstein promoted the employee twice.

“Mr. Bernstein had violated Lincoln Centre human resources policy by not disclosing a personal relationship with an employee,” Lincoln Centre explained in a prepared statement to The New York Times.

Source: New York Times


Intel — Brian Krzanich & employee

David Becker/Getty ImagesFormer Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich resigned in 2018 over a a relationship with an employee. Though the relationship was in the past and consensual, Intel found that violated the company’s non-fraternization policy.

Sources: New York Times, Intel


Microsoft — Bill & Melinda Gates

APBill Gates (left) and Melinda Gates (right), one week after their 1994 Hawaii wedding.

In 1987, Melinda Gates graduated from Duke University with her MBA, joined Microsoft as a product manager, and met her future husband, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. Bill asked Melinda out, and they married in 1994.

Melinda remained an employee of Microsoft throughout their dating, engagement, and the beginning of their marriage. She left the company in 1996 to “focus on her philanthropic work and family,” according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website.

Source: Business Insider, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


Carl Icahn & Gail Golden

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP ImagesCarl Ichan (right) and Gail Golden (left) in 2007.

Carl Icahn married his “longtime assistant” Gail Golden in 1999 after separating from his first wife, according to Forbes and New York Magazine.

Sources: Forbes, New York Magazine


Sidley Austin LLP — Barack & Michelle Obama

Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama (right) and first lady Michelle Obama (left).

Michelle joined law firm Sidley Austin LLP in 1988. By 1989, she was a junior associate assigned to mentor a new summer associate: Barack Obama. Michelle was not Barack’s boss, and Barack asked Michelle out. They began dating, and when Barack was given a full-time offer as the end of his internship, he declined and told his boss Newton Minow, “I’m taking Michelle with me … we’re going to get married,” or so Minow recalled to TIME. Michelle subsequently left the firm. The pair married in 1992.

Sources: Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, Quartz, TIME

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