Today's corporate scandals are heavy on the accounting, light on the sex. Where are the juicy boardroom affairs? Where are allegations of a young female executive sleeping her way to the top? Where's the love?
Mary Cunningham Agee can hardly believe it's been almost 25 years since she ended up on the covers of business magazines, caught up in such a scandal. Then 29, she was the executive assistant to William Agee, the CEO of manufacturing conglomerate Bendix. Fresh out of Harvard Business School, Cunningham quickly became a trusted confidant of her boss, and shortly after her arrival they both separated from their spouses. Her swift promotion to vice president of strategic planning did not sit well within the ranks of the Bendix executive suite. Anonymous notes alleging an affair with Agee poured into the boardroom, and a media frenzy ensued. Cunningham and Agee vehemently denied the rumors but married two years later. In her tell-all book published in 1984, she writes that their romance blossomed after she left the company.
Today, the couple live in Napa Valley, having happily left corporate America and the media glare behind. After experiencing a miscarriage shortly after they were married, Mary Agee started the Nurturing Network, a nonprofit organization for women with unplanned pregnancies. With private donations and thousands of volunteers, the network provides counseling for the young women, as well as education, employment, and residential services. Though the organization is apolitical and has taken no government funding, it adheres to "pro-life" principles. "I realized that most women undergo abortions out of the sense that there is no other choice," she says. The Nurturing Network will celebrate its 20th anniversary this Mother's Day.
Bill Agee, 67, is a strategic consultant and venture capitalist. He left Bendix after a hostile takeover battle with Martin Marietta and later became CEO of Morrison Knudsen before being forced out in 1995. The couple have a daughter at Notre Dame and a son heading to Stanford University next year.
Though still not perfect, life has improved immeasurably for women in corporate America since 1980, and Mary Agee counts her story among those contributing to that progress. "Women are reflected in corporate culture at higher levels today," she says. "I think I educated young women on some of the politics in business. If I had to do a little suffering for my daughter to have a better experience, that's OK. -Megan Barnett
This story appears in the February 28, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.