It also made Suzy call Kiechel and come clean. Sort of. Staff members gripe that Walter would've had to have been on Mars not to have heard about the affair, so rampant was the scuttlebutt. But Kiechel, who is based in New York, claims that while he was aware of the buzz, this was the first time he was hearing that his editor had become involved with Welch. "She called me up and said, 'Look, I completed this interview, it's ready to go to the printer, but the nature of my relationship with him has changed. It's become more of a personal friendship,' " remembers Kiechel. "And that 'in light of that, there may be people who don't understand, and might think that it somehow has tainted the editorial objectivity of the Review.' "
Suzy suggested that they pull the piece. But subscribers had been promised a big Welch story in the February issue, and ads had been sold against it. So Kiechel came up with a different solution: They would dispatch two reporters, Collingwood and Diane Coutu, to reinterview Welch. ("Suzy, you starfucker," Collingwood said when she gave him the assignment. "What happened now?" "Jane called," Suzy replied.)
The reinterview was set up for New Year's Eve at Jack's pad in the tony Lost Tree development in North Palm Beach. The ground rules were that Suzy could have nothing to do with the editing and Welch would be allowed "three changes" to the final copy. This is standard operating procedure at HBR, where stories are considered "learning tools" for the 230,000 subscribers who pay $118 a year. Which prompted the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz to quip later: Weren't they already in bed with their sources?
Collingwood, however, was an experienced, well-regarded journalist who had worked at numerous publications and was none too thrilled to be giving up New Year's Eve with his girlfriend to reinterview his boss's boyfriend. "It was a terrible position to be in," says Collingwood. "Finally, we decided to just be professionals and do the best interview we possibly could."
For two hours, as Harris and Diane talked with Welch on the veranda, they peppered him with weighty "learning tool" questions about his decades as a business leader. The conversation ended when Welch got up and said, "I'm gonna have to kick you guys out of here, I've gotta go meet my wife for lunch."
The grumbling about Suzy and Jack had to this point been kept within the walls of the HBR offices, but that would end in early January, when Wall Street Journal reporter James Bandler began sniffing around. The HBR staff had a great deal of respect for Bandler, which is why they were freaked out. How much did he know? they wondered. "Who's the mole?" Suzy began to scream. The powers-that-be at Harvard were even less amused.
The damage control began. The Daily News reported that Welch tried to quash the story by calling his friend and Journal managing editor Paul Steiger. Kiechel had the presence of mind to call the photographer who had shot Jack and Suzy together to lock up the rights to his negatives "for another six months." But how to handle Bandler? So intimidating was the threat of exposure in the Journal that in early January, Kiechel appeared via video conference to address the top editors (excluding Suzy). Kiechel says the main purpose of the meeting was to address whether the interview should run at all. But staff members recall it differently.
"It was this really uncomfortable meeting," remembers Collingwood. "We were talking about the ethics of our interviews and this had gone too far and this isn't the first time that Suzy's been involved with her subjects. And at one point he tells us, 'Well, you know, when Norm Pearlstine was trying to know Ross Perot, he baby-sat Perot's kids. And if you know Pearlstine, he doesn't even like children.' And we were like, 'Walter, there's a difference between getting close to your sources and fucking them.' " By the end, Kiechel assured them that he would immediately "form a task force" to come up with an "ethics policy" for the future of HBR. And that if anyone got any media calls, to please refer them to him and the head of P.R.
At a staff meeting on January 10, a few days after the video conference, Suzy apologized for the trauma she had caused. "It started out fine," remembers one person in attendance. "She just said, 'I'm sorry.' But then," he says, laughing, "she got that 'onstage' look, and just went on and on and on." She talked about how meeting Jack Welch was a "blessed event," how it was "true love" and "how could she ever have expected it?" But what was she to do? It was fate, and it was "heavenly." Then she said, "I want you all to be happy for me, I've had a really hard year." Then her voice caught into a little sob.
On January 16, Collingwood put his thoughts in writing to Kiechel. "Dear Walter," he wrote, "Emulating the brave lady at Enron who sent a warning letter to Ken Lay because she thought he should know the facts, I want to make you aware of what life is like here. . . . The HBR culture is in shambles." In a long, anguished e-mail, signed "in sorrow and anger both," he expressed his concerns about the reputation of the magazine he had come to love and the editor who loved too much. "The undisguised kick she gets from companioning high-profile, powerful men is one of the reasons some of us on the staff swallowed our qualms about the way she mixes her personal and working lives. I mean, who wants to be the killjoy who spoils her transparent sense of fun?"
Suzy Wetlaufer was named editor of HBR in October 2000. Her promotion from executive editor was concurrent with the magazine's going from bimonthly to ten times a year, and with a million-dollar marketing campaign -- the slogan was "Sometimes a magazine opens you" -- to boost the Review's profile.
Even Suzy's detractors will tell you she's a stellar editor -- smart, quick, and passionate about both the subject matter and her staff. She began to recruit more top talent, including Collingwood and another senior editor, Alden Hayashi. "I was seduced by her," says Hayashi. "Though that's probably not the right word in this context. She's just very energetic, very charismatic, and she had all these great plans."
Her credentials were sterling: Along with all those Harvard degrees, she had earned her journalist's stripes at the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the Miami Herald, and she'd even found success as a novelist. Her 1992 thriller, Judgment Call, tells the story of a female reporter, a "beautiful, fun, sassy-mouthed flirt," who becomes dangerously involved with her source, a Miami coke dealer. The novel was optioned by Disney.
Being editor of the Harvard Business Review brought a different kind of prestige. Targeted at senior managers at major American corporations, "it has to be useful," says one editor. Readers "have to be able to make money on it the next day or market better or lead better."
It's also a cash cow for Harvard. Most of the pieces, says Kiechel, are written by unpaid outside experts -- professors, CEOs, consultants. "These people can't write," says a former editor. "So the staff is in the business of taking their ideas and rewriting them." In exchange for their time and HBR's $100 honorarium, the experts get the glory of an HBR story -- and the green light to distribute reprints of their articles to potential clients. Which is where Harvard really rakes it in: HBR charges $6 per reprint and sells, on average, several million reprints a year -- you do the math. HBR funnels its earnings into the Harvard Business School's general fund. Last year, the figure was $17.8 million.
In mid-March, Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam thought to look up the salaries for HBR executives and editors with the IRS. "Wetlaufer's $276,000 compensation," he noted, "makes her look like a piker." Kiechel pulled down $709,000 in 2001. His boss, Linda Doyle (who is stepping down this fall), made $810,000 in 2001. (Kiechel points out that 2001 was an unusually high year for bonuses.)
And Doyle's boss? Well, that would be James Cash, chairman of the board of Harvard Business School Publishing and a dean at the B-school, who also happens to be a member of the board of directors at General Electric.
Suzy's promotion was cause for celebration, so a party was thrown at the downtown Harvard Club, which has a stunning top-floor view of Boston. There was a lavish spread and lots of booze. But the real fun came when executive editor Nick Carr read the "Top 10 articles that Suzy Wetlaufer would like to see in HBR." Howls of laughter filled the room when Carr got to this line on his list: "Loverboy: The Secret Life of Jacques Nasser."
But even more exciting was the action on the dance floor. "Suzy and Joe were all over each other," staffers noted. Joe Maurer was a fresh-out-of-Ohio editorial assistant -- tall, athletic, with dirty-blond hair, "cute in an apple-cheeked frat-boy way," as one staffer puts it -- whom Suzy had taken an immediate shine to. Before long, "they were quite openly having an affair," says one staffer. She told some of her colleagues that Maurer had moved into her basement (something about his apartment being flooded). Others heard how he took vacations with her and sometimes cared for her kids.
"He's madly in love with me," she told one editor. But when confronted by management about rumors flying around, Suzy denied the charges. Despite her denial, there ensued a flurry of "management meetings," and suddenly Joe was gone. (He's in premed now at Tufts.) Kiechel won't comment on the terms of Maurer's exit from HBR, but staffers say he left with a check from Harvard.
Della says when Suzy was seeing Joe, with whom she's still "very close friends," her pals were thrilled for her. It was the first "real romance" she'd had since her fifteen-year marriage ended in June 2000. "It was very liberating for her," says Della. "It wasn't like she was using him just to get her jollies off. She really, really liked him.
"Suzy has had only two relationships since the breakup of her marriage," Della adds, pointedly referring to the stories about Jacques Nasser. "Joe, and Jack."