Relationships at work

• The potentially damaging impact that divorce can have on the fortunes of large organisations was shown to best advantage following the surprise announcement, in 1998, that Rupert Murdoch had split with his wife Anna, a director of News Corp in her own right. But immediate stock-market jitters were quickly offset by the company. Anna Murdoch’s resignation was swiftly announced and the investors were assured that all the family’s stock in the company was residing in trust for the Murdoch children.

• Dennis Hayes, founder of modem-maker Hayes Microcomputer Products, was less fortunate in his dealings with ex-wife Melita, who in 1988 was granted 10 per cent of the company after arguing successfully that she had made a valuable contribution to its growth during its early years. In 1996, she put this stake to good use by joining forces with a competing group which was attempting to acquire Hayes as it was emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The bid failed – but it forced Hayes to buy her stake for an over-inflated $11m.

• In 1995, the owner/manager of a UK concrete pumping firm took drastic action to protect his company from his ex-wife by selling it to employees for £1. She had previously turned down a salary of £18,000 and their four-bedroomed house. He later claimed: “With the help of my mates, I’ve beaten Caroline. They were doing 20-hour days, they stuck to me like glue and it’s my turn to repay the debt. The company is theirs now and I wish them all the best. I’m going to sign on.”

• Last year, chartered surveyor John Dougan claimed he faced bankruptcy after a judge ordered he should pay £20,000 to his estranged wife for the salary she lost when they married – in addition to maintenance payments. Legal experts claimed the judgement, made under the 1985 Family Law (Scotland) Act, could set a worrying precedent.

• In 1997, Lorna Wendt, the estranged wife of General Electric Capital chief executive, Gary Wendt, won assets of $17m from her husband, in addition to annual alimony of $252,000. She had successfully argued that she had sacrificed her own career to help her husband as he rose up through the corporate echelons. A key point in the case was how assets like stock options should be valued in a divorce settlement – an important issue given the more frequent use of stock options and deferred compensation. Her lawyer claimed the ruling demonstrated that valuable future assets were marital property, and thus subject to division.

• A similar blow was struck by the UK courts when Sir Terence Conran was ordered to pay his former wife Caroline £6.2m in cash as part of a £10.5m settlement because of what the judge called her “outstanding” contribution to his career. He had offered only £2.5m.

Mr Justice Wilson claimed that Lady Conran’s energy “was almost as prodigious as that of her husband.” At the beginning of the Habitat empire, she was “almost as full of ideas” and “her role in providing inspiration was integral to the enormous and lasting success of his ventures”.

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