Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter



Jun 23, 2010

Kohler on sex and execs: how DJs got it right in the end

Why does a successful CEO -- Mark McInnes -- get his marching orders for reportedly trying to kiss a staff member, while an unsuccessful one -- Malcolm Jackman -- hangs on having halved the value of his company in a single day?


It’s an interesting world when a successful CEO — Mark McInnes — gets his marching orders for reportedly trying to kiss a staff member, while an unsuccessful one — Malcolm Jackman — hangs on having halved the value of his company in a single day.

The Elders CEO may well follow McInnes into hiding before long, but you certainly can’t accuse his board of being ruthless

A week after Mark McInnes’ reign at David Jones came to such a shocking end, debate is still raging about whether the board did the right thing, and whether they are setting a standard for other boards and CEOs that is too high and too prudish. I think the DJs board has stumbled into doing the right thing: the end result is right and an important issue has been highlighted.

To be honest, when I first heard McInnes had been fired for two incidents of “inappropriate behaviour” at staff functions, I thought he must have got drunk and groped some poor woman in a corner.

Then when it was reported that he just tried to kiss her, I thought there must be more to the story. There was: on this occasion he “misread the signals” but apparently there have been plenty of other times, with other women, when he read them correctly, and the Prince and Cinderella then went off for a spot of quiet glass slipper fitting.

McInnes was single — though he’s not now — and while he wasn’t in the Tiger Woods class perhaps, he certainly “enjoyed the company of women”, to employ the phrase often used about him these days. And DJs is full of women whose company he might have enjoyed.

However, if chairman Bob Savage is to be believed, he and the board knew none of this. The fact their CEO was what you might call an active heterosexual had not filtered into the boardroom. All Savage knew, he says, is the CEO came to him and said he’d been stupid with a female staff member and that the law firm of Rottweiler, Bull Terrier and Co was now on his tail.

Even though this was a first offence and McInnes had more than tripled the company’s value, Savage didn’t hesitate: out you go then. One strike and you’re out. They then took a week to negotiate the money — $1.5 million on top of existing benefits, which is much less than McInnes would have got as a “good leaver” but still a fair bit for someone leaving in disgrace.

As a result, the DJs directors are in the unhappy position of being criticised by just about everyone — for getting rid of him too hastily and for paying him too much on the way out.

Often when both sides of an argument are criticising your decision, you know you’ve done something right, but in this case the DJs board has just left themselves looking stupid for not knowing what McInnes had been up to, and weak for not following through on their tough stance. But in fact I think McInnes’ behaviour has indeed been disgraceful and, yes, he should have been sacked.

Whether the two incidents referred to in last week’s statements, in which McInnes made unwanted advances on the same woman, consisted of sackable sexual harassment is a matter for the courts and for those involved. But where the DJs CEO has definitely behaved badly is in using his position over many years for sexual gain. It’s no different to misusing your position for financial gain.

If McInnes had been extorting money out of female employees in return for promotion and other advantages, he probably wouldn’t have just been sacked — he’d be in jail. But because he was simply a ‘ladies’ man’ playing the field and reading signals, it’s just part of corporate life. Just Mark being Mark. And anyone watching the TV series Mad Men knows this has been going on for a very long time.

Well, I think ‘seducing down’ should now be formally put on a watch list, and not just when it is clearly harrassment and the ‘seducee’ complains.

It is a delicate and complicated business to be sure, but in my view any manager who routinely cavorts with those under him or her, as it were, is suspect and should be formally warned, even if no one is complaining about harassment. A second offence should result in the sack.

Some office relationships between a manager and staff member are not based on exploitation, but I think the manager’s superiors should assume it is and act accordingly. They should think about the sex as money: if they found out the manager was asking for cash would they think differently, even if the staff member was paying it willingly?

Companies should have a formal policy about office liaisons that are not harassment but may still involve exploitation. That policy should assume it’s inappropriate, with the onus of notification and proof on the people involved.

So should McInnes have been formally warned and given a second chance? Well, yes — long ago. Two weeks ago he actually resigned, and the board had two choices: accept or reject. I suspect he just wanted out and it was best for all concerned for him to move on.

And by doing it messily and giving the prurient press a field day, Savage has inadvertently highlighted an important and overdue problem.


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

32 thoughts on “Kohler on sex and execs: how DJs got it right in the end

  1. Nigel Westrock

    Just kissed her. See how you go when he gives you a kiss Alan.

  2. John Bennetts

    Alan has been a bit savage on Savage. He got it right all the way through. There is no easy, mess-free way to clean up this type of stuff.

    Regarding workplace romances, there is a huge difference between a romance that develops outside the workplace between people who met at work and being heavied by the Big Boss.

    Quite simply, any kind of attempt at physical intimacy at the workplace is a big red light, regardless of the rank of the initiator.

    That is what appears to have happened here, and that is the problem. If a manager chooses to take a lesser mortal out to dinner (say) and that person agrees to do so, then there is a clear power imbalance, but at least a semblance of propriety.

    As to an onus of notification being put on both employees… what world are you living in? Nobody wants to publish their first kiss to the HR Department, let alone further developments. Get real. Provided that things are properly consensual and not happening at work, then it is not a corporate matter.

  3. Delerious

    There are laws in place in relation to sexual harassment. The board had a choice and accepted his resignation but that doesn’t stop the company being chased in court and being fined and all the other trimmings that go with this type occurrence. This won’t go away and I’m sorry the media is chasing the woman in question. He admitted it so leave her alone.

  4. John Wood

    Oh dear, what is it that Mr Kohler doesn’t understand about inappropriate behaviour?

  5. James McDonald

    I won’t win any popularity prizes for saying this, but there are a lot of happily married couples who hit it off that way.

  6. C.P.Quagmire

    He’s no great loss – Goddard and Zarha are the brains behind the operation.

  7. SusieQ

    Finally a company that has got rid of the problem and not forced the victim out, as is so often the case. DJ’s are to be congratulated for their handling of this matter, even if the Board did seem to have been walking around with their eyes closed for a long time. Another reason to have more women on Boards???

  8. SusieQ

    And I meant to add, if DJ’s had not dealt with this in the proper way, I for one would not have set foot inside one of their stores again.

  9. Socratease

    I had to read Alan’s piece twice because it meanders so much around the core issue. It wasn’t until I read …

    “But in fact I think McInnes’ behaviour has indeed been disgraceful and, yes, he should have been sacked.”

    … that I discerned his actual position on the matter.

    As for …

    However, if chairman Bob Savage is to be believed, he and the board knew none of this. The fact their CEO was what you might call an active heterosexual had not filtered into the boardroom.

    … this is the bit of the whole tawdry affair that I have difficulty in believing. Individual members of the board, especially those who have been there for some time, would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to have been aware of McInnes’ reputation.

    The fact that the woman involved had to resort to using workplace lawyers to make her complaint indicates to me that she knew that lodging a complaint via the usual route would have been fruitless in getting the unwanted behaviour to stop.

  10. Socratease

    @SusieQ: The woman involved may now have been forced out by all of the media attention. I hope it’s not the case, but she has probably paid the traditional price of the whistle-blower.

    It’s up to Savage to make sure that the woman is not victimised within DJs, however with all of the media exposure involving her in the matter, I can understand if she now feels too uncomfortable to return to that workplace, and for that reason I hope that McInnes never lives down his own grubby reputation.

  11. CML

    @ JOHN BENNETTS – I agree with your comments. Mr. Kohler is just another dinosaur in a suit sounding very ambivalent about the fate of this McInnes person. To be fair, he does eventually come to the conclusion that the man in question should have been dismissed, but is that good enough? It almost seems that if you are good at making money you should expect to be cut a little slack. What crap!! Women too have rights these days, Mr. Kohler, and no doubt the courts will have the final say on this incident. By the way, where else did you expect the young lady to go if not to a lawyer? Totally off the planet!!

  12. Frank Birchall

    Well, many thanks Superintendent Kohler of the Morals Police for this piece of guidance on how company execs and others should behave. Alan starts by saying that McInnes “reportedly” tried to kiss a staff member and then goes on as though the “reports” are fact. Alan then says that “apparently there have been plenty of other times, with other women ..” also accepted as fact. So, unsurprisingly, McInnes is hung out to dry, guilty unless proven innocent. This, by the way, following McInnes’ protestations that, contrary to widespread media reports, he had not “fled” the country via first-class air travel to Portofino.

    We are then informed by Alan that McInnes has “definitely behaved badly” by using his position “over many years” for sexual gain. Says who? How can you be so “definite” Alan? In fact, how the hell do you know all this anyway? The moral equivalence of “extorting money” and “seducing down” (whatever that means, but let’s call in the workplace lawyers to find out) is nonsense. The former is a cut and dried crime, the latter will often be harmless mutual attraction between consenting adults; that is, not equivalent at all.

    Alan also says that although many workplace relationships are not based on exploitation, “the manager’s superiors should assume it is and act accordingly” Sounds like a board room lynch mob to me, Alan. The whole piece is an outrageous example of an ill informed rush to judgment that, if ever unwisely implemented, will be welcomed with vuvuzuelas by the legal profession.

  13. Julius

    I only wish to comment on the logic of Alan’s equating sex to money in this context so he can try and do better. Frank Birchall has already pointed out that the treatment of voluntary sexual activity as if it was the voluntary payment of money is nonsense. I would add the precise point that the sexual exchange is, or might be hoped to be, like both putting their money into a hat and drawing out twice as much when they do the lucky dip. If one gives money to the other the giver has less money. Sex based on mutual desire (whatever the occasion or motive for the first approach) is rarely like that.

  14. Liz45

    James McDonald
    Posted Wednesday, 23 June 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
    I won’t win any popularity prizes for saying this, but there are a lot of happily married couples who hit it off that way.”

    Yes, James, but in this case,SHE WAS MARRIED TO SOMEONE ELSE AND HAD REBUFFED HIM ONCE BEFORE, and he’s as good as – his partner is pregnant with his child! A real nice type!

    @SUSIE Q – I’m with you! I’ve commented about this on an earlier site, and I’m glad that at last the message MIGHT be getting through! People should be able to go to work without the fear of being mauled and groped by some bloke who’s a legend in his own wallet – and has a basic hatred/disrespect for women! Apparently, some other female colleagues classed his behaviour(of many years) “disgusting” Some blokes and sadly still, too many women don’t get it!

    Last night I re-read the results of a 12 month survey by two women in the Illawarra/Macarthur areas, who were working out of a women’s centre, and the worst and highest number of complaints re harassment were of a sexual nature. Some worse case scenarios were;
    being forced to watch pornography or having this type of grot sent via email;
    groping and ‘rubbing’ etc in any area of common use – didn’t know when it would happen;
    belittling, humiliating comments about body shape or clothes etc, and many other criminal acts which also included verbal and physical abuse and stalking – for months sometimes?
    In one case, the perpetrator was her boss’s husband – she felt impotent, and so just left?

    Many women just left as you said Susie, and others suffered such anxiety and stress, that they required psychological counselling etc. It’s OK for men like James and others to be flippant and derogatory – in their own way, they’re just reinforcing the impact of these gutless and ghastly activities – they’re against the law! LAW law!

    @FRANK BIRCHELL – “We are then informed by Alan that McInnes has “definitely behaved badly” by using his position “over many years” for sexual gain. Says who? How can you be so “definite” Alan? In fact, how the hell do you know all this anyway?”

    Because there was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald(several actually) and other women contributed, commenting that they’re glad he’s gone; he’s been behaving like this for years(with many women?) and his behaviour was “disgusting”?Some women left as they didn’t believe that they had any power to do anything, considering his position v/s theirs? It’s about POWER and CONTROL and has nothing to do with normal sexual attraction or friendship. Fair dinkim men don’t behave this way!

    25% of claims for harassment in the workforce are of a sexual nature? I suggest people go and take a look at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission with more up to date stats. I’m sure, that with other forms of abuse against women on the increase, while many other crimes over recent years have decreased(robberies and car thefts etc)one could justly assume, that these types of crimes have in no way decreased?
    Very sad and horrific for victims Frank!

  15. davidk

    Can we believe he just tried to kiss her?
    Got mydoubts.

  16. Socratease

    @Liz45: Although some early media reports said the woman involved is married, subsequent reports have her living with her boyfriend. So, ‘in a relationship’ would be more accurate.

  17. John Bennetts


    It is entirely irrelevant to this discussion whether he was seeking a peck on the cheek or something more.

    The principle is clear enough to me. If his advances are made at work, that is cause enough for concern. That he tried again after a rebuff is the second part of the story.

    From there on, it is only a matter of degree. He has already crossed two lines, in my book.

    Irrelevant: Name, Marital/partner status, age difference, power difference, physical details. The verdict stands. These matters only serve to justify/mitigate the penalty.

    I am horrified by the behaviour of this man, who certainly has the means to obtain sexual favours from willing paid partners if he was so desperate. Why a CEO would demean his corporation in this manner is beyond me. It indicates a possible irresponsible attitude to other business matters.

    The board had no choice but to obtain advice, check their facts and then to act. So what if this took a week? As I heard it, the COE was on leave during this period. Hopefully, the lady concerned received support during this period as well, so that the public explosion would not come as a surprise.

  18. SusieQ

    John Bennetts, you are just about right, except, as Liz45 says, this is about power and control – he was in a position of power over these women so exploited the situation- we’ve all come across these men before (sadly) – he won’t be the first, won’t be the last. Many men, while sympathetic and horrified by these things (and we appreciate that) still don’t understand thats what its about – physical, mental, financial, policital power over women. Its why girls in some countries are being pulled out of school at 13 to be forced into arranged marriages, subjected to genital mutilation – I could go on, but this could turn into a rant!

  19. John Bennetts


    Noted. I do not disagree with your position re DJ’s. I really feel for the lady concerned. The corporation, the other players and, particularly, the journalists and editors have done her a grave disservice. That she has been publicly identified amounts to assault. It is horrid.

    Genital mutilation has been going on for many centuries, as any visitor to my shower might notice. Thankfully, this is not the main topic of todays’ column, nor, as far as I know, mandatory for DJ’s employees. Female genital mutilation, to me, includes the social pressure which leads to many forms of plastic surgery, not just the barbaric practices which first come to mind.

    Thanks for reading and understanding my contribution. I think that we both disagree viscerally with the lead article, because it misses the point, which is that this is about people, not corporations. I could not give a stuff about the CEO. I hope that the lady is able to put this behind her and regain control of her life.

  20. Liz45

    @DAVIDK – Whether or not he “just tried to kiss her” the fact is, that she’d rebuffed him once and he persisted? With the wealth of information I’ve gained over many years, there is more to this story than just a so-called? innocent act! Other women have alleged that he was a ‘serial offender’ whose behaviour was found to be “disgusting”? He was not a teenager or a twenty something – he’s 45?

    JOHN BENNETTS – At last, another bloke who gets it! Thank you!

    @SOCRATESE – “@Liz45: Although some early media reports said the woman involved is married, subsequent reports have her living with her boyfriend. So, ‘in a relationship’ would be more accurate.”

    It matters not! This young woman had rejected his advances once before. He was the CEO, a person of 45 yrs of age. He could’ve found out her circumstance via her personnel file or by inquiries, the fact remains, that he had no right to take advantage of his position and assault her. That’s what sexual harassment of this nature in the workforce is about – it’s about POWER and CONTROL of another person in order to gain sexual advantage – I hasten to add, that it’s not for gratification – he had a partner didn’t he? It was about domination of a person in a position of vulnerability.

    Most people have no problem understanding the relationship if there’s two people of the same sex perhaps, and one has a weapon – a knife or? Or even if they’re of different sexes – people can grasp that element of POWER and CONTROL, and I might add, the ‘excitement’ apparently the perpetrator feels seeing another person powerless and vulnerable? This is of a similar nature.

    Don’t forget, that as well as his position of CEO he’s a man – not a small man by any means. He also had physical POWER and CONTROL over her. Believe me, that is a horrific and terrifying position to be in! It just makes you feel sick and weak from fear, and the knowledge, that if ‘push comes to shove’ you’re ‘cactus!

    I hope this young woman, and those others in the same work environment who’ve experienced similar assaults, have a strong support network; of people who love and support them, but most importantly, believe their ‘story’ and are appalled and concerned on their behalf!
    When we really love and care about people, we validate their right to be affronted, and support them in their quest for justice! That’s what I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to do! People would be shocked and stunned at half the stories I could relate – as many others who’ve been in a privileged person could attest to. I promise you that they are all true!

    We’ve got to speak with one voice about our disgust and revulsion of this sort of behaviour!Enough is Enough!

  21. Socratease

    @Liz45: I didn’t imply, nor do I believe, that it doesn’t matter, I am simply updating you on the facts. Okay?

  22. Socratease

    @Liz45: Go back and read my posts and tell me where you get the idea that I support McInnes.

  23. Frank Birchall

    LIZ45, don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers, they’re simply not that reliable. The SMH also reported that McInnes had flown to Portofino first-class and this has since been shown to be false. Have a look at today’s piece in the SMH by Ross Gittins concerning natural bias of news media towards bad and sensational news. Like it or not, anyone accused of bad behaviour by the media (or by unidentified persons reported in the media) is entitled to fair and just treatment until such time that there is independent evidence as to their guilt.

  24. John Bennetts

    @Frank Birchall:

    I have immense respect for Ross Gittins, but not necessarily on this subject. His article has not come my way yet. I also have no interest in the seating arrangements on the plane that a past CEO may or may have not taken out ofd Australia.

    However, this issue is about the response of a Chairman of DJ’s to an agreed (but not published) set of facts in relation to an accusation, made through a firm of lawyers, that a CEO has behaved inappropriately with a staff member. The CEO has not significantly disputed the facts as presented and has fallen on his sword.

    Neither you, nor I, nor shareholders, nor journalists, nor editors are entitled to more information than that. We, the Australian public, have no need or entitlement to pry further.

    The Board and the Chairman have used a week or so to finalise their response. I presume that legal advice was sought and obtained by the Board, through the Chairman. I also presume that the agreed facts are truthful, which include:
    * The COE accepted that his behaviour appropriately resulted in his resignation or sacking.
    * The CEO took leave during the short period while the Chairman obtained advice.
    * The Chairman, after deliberation and recaipt of advice, negotiated a separation agreement with the CEO.
    * n announcement was made to the market re departure of the CEO and the reasons therefore.

    There is no reason to query the Chairman’s decision. The essential facts have not been disputed. The resignation of the CEO is appropriate and is final.

    The CEO has departed the scene, whether by first class air or by second hand donkey, it matters not at all.

    Nobody, journalist or editor or private person or shareholder, has any right to further information. The young lady involved has suffered enough. Please leave her alone and stop digging in the dirt.

    You say that certain persons are entitled to fair and just treatment until their guilt or otherwise has been established. Let me summarise: CEO Guilty.

    The lady involved is entitled to privacy, support and an end to the dirt-digging. She has been damaged enough. Please do not support any extension of this inquest, for whatever reason.

  25. Liz45

    @FRANK BIRCHALL – Frank, the fact is, that a man who’s enjoyed an extremely high financial and personal position of power has been forced to resign, due to an “inappropriate” situation involving a young woman. Just because the other women at said company didn’t give their names(for obvious reasons) but complained of bad and “disgusting” behaviour, you’d have to be totally naive not to know what’s ocurred? I mean come on? How old are you? Where have you been? Have you ever even researched Sexual Harassment in the Workplace? Do you know anything about it at all? I suggest not! Do you think his resignation would’ve been accepted if it was a trivial ‘event’? Would they have wanted the sworn evidence of even one other victim? If he was forced into an unjust or unfair situation, wouldn’t the Board have supported him to ‘clear his name’??

    @SOCRATESE – Okay!
    Sorry, I really only meant the first paragraph under your name to be a direct response to you. The rest was to those who still try and defend him. I apologise for any wrong comments you may have felt were to you! I must pay attention to this in future!

    And no, you have not supported McInnes! Good for you!

  26. Liz45

    Below is just a small extract from the web site.

    The last sentence is also very important, as it clearly states, that employers have a responsibility to have a policy in place in order to protect workers from sexual harassment by others. Now, if the very head person of the company or workplace is a ‘serial offender’ it follows, that no such policy would be in place – it certainly has not been operative!

    The Chinese have a saying, ‘ a fish rots from its head’? Says it all really. Some women have referred to the “blokey culture” in that workplace!


    “What is sexual harassment?
    Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour which makes a person feel offended or humiliated. It has nothing to do with mutual attraction or consensual behaviour.

    Sexual harassment can include:

    staring, leering or unwelcome touching
    suggestive comments or jokes
    sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
    repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates
    intrusive questions about a person’s private life
    requests for sex
    displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature.
    A person who sexually harasses someone else is responsible for their behaviour.

    Employers can also be held responsible for sexual harassment by their employees if they haven’t taken steps to prevent it from happening.”

    For more information on practical steps to prevent sexual harassment see: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sexualharassment/

  27. Socratease

    McInnes will be thankful that a different woman is currently in the headlines.

  28. Moira Smith

    ‘Whether the two incidents referred to in last week’s statements, in which McInnes made unwanted advances on the same woman, consisted of sackable sexual harassment is a matter for the courts and for those involved. ‘

    But, thank goodness, not a matter for Alan K.

    I attended a seminar at work this week on harrassment, and the word ‘unwanted’ was KEY in defining whether behaviour was sexual harrassment or otherwise. We were told, it’s in the legislation.

    The fact that McInnes (or anyone) had to do it TWICE to the same person, and still didn’t get the message, speaks volumes.

  29. Liz45

    @MOIRA – Indeed! I agree!

    At the bottom of my last post it states very clearly(except from the anti-discriminationAct) that it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure that workers are not harassed. There’s supposed to be a policy in place. It wouldn’t surprise me if no such policy existed at this workplace – perhaps in every DJ’s store? Hope they learn from this and do what the law states!

  30. John Bennetts

    Liz45, DJ’s are far too large a corporation to not have an anti-harassment policy embedded within its EEO policy framework.

    Enforcement is another thing entirely, especially in the corridors of power.

    As I said above, what I find most disturbing about this issue is the naming and publication of supposed details of the goings-on which this employee has been subjected to. It is absolutely disgraceful she is being subjected to further injury and is being prevented from getting on with healing her life. This sort of gutter journalism limits the options for those involved and pushes them into corners where litigation is virtually unavoidable, although they know from the outset that recourse to courts will stigmatise the complainant, force everybody into defensive stances and, at best, can only pick up the pieces after the event.

    It is also disturbing that journalists are free to disclose private matters in this way, when personal details and details of the incident are really nobody else’s business.

    We need a Bill of Rights in this country, yet many in the legal profession are against it. Somewhere I have a letter from Hon. John Hatzistergos, BEc LLM MLC, Attorney General, Minister for Citizenship, Minister for Regulatory Reform, the responsible Minister in NSW, explaining in waffle that he does not support one. Minster for regulatory reform? What has he been doing in this role for the past couple of years?

  31. Liz45

    @JOHN BENNETTS – I agree with you. Sadly, the fear and intimidation felt by those who are abused in this manner prevents many of them from taking action.
    It’s not unusal for women who’ve been on the receiving end of such treatment to require counselling for some time. In too many cases women are unfit for work for long periods of time.

    I know of a young woman who was suffering RSI being internally examined for pregnancy by a doctor the insurance company sent her to.

    I know of another woman, who while she was asking her employer for a workers comp form for RSI, had her small car picked up by a fork lift in the car park and moved to another place!

    Another was threatened with cutting off her workers comp if she didn’t ‘come across’? She refused, the so-called doctor wrote a negative report, and her money was cut off!

    Women have been stalked, pushed, mauled and many other traumas by men in the workplace and other situations as well.

    I feel very sorry for this young woman, as I know how traumatic this type of assault is, and how much courage women like her display, when they refuse to be treated this way! I hope she has a loving partner and close family to support her – if she does, her ability to survive this and get on with a happy and fulfilled life will be realised. I wish her well!

    Like you, I support a Bill of Rights. Those who are against this are usually the ones who gain by abusing other people’s rights!

Leave a comment


https://www.crikey.com.au/2010/06/23/kohler-on-s-x-and-execs-how-djs-got-it-right-in-the-end/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

Show popup

Telling you what the others don't. FREE for 21 days.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.