At the recent annual meeting of medical-device maker Stryker Corp., SYK +0.06% Chairman William U. Parfet puzzled attendees when he began with a brief statement about former Chief Executive Stephen P. MacMillan, who was pushed out two months earlier.
"Just to clarify, on behalf of the board of directors, we'd like to clearly state that Steve never violated any company policy nor any code of conduct," Mr. Parfet said at the meeting April 24.
Executives Felled By Scandal
There is a long list of corporate leaders felled by allegations of personal or ethical lapses in recent years. Read about some of them.
* More photos and interactive graphics
Live Chat Recap
Joann Lublin spoke with readers in a live chat about romance in the workplace on May 23. Read the full transcript.
It wasn't clear why he made the comment—Stryker had said in February that the CEO was leaving for "family reasons"—and Mr. Parfet didn't explain.
The circumstances, pieced together from interviews with people who had direct knowledge of the events, offer a cautionary tale about how an office romance and resulting concerns about credibility could bring down a well-regarded CEO.
Mr. MacMillan, 48 years old, was forced out partly because certain board members became bothered by his handling of a relationship with a former flight attendant for the company's corporate jets while his wife pursued a divorce, according to people familiar with the matter.
What distinguishes his story from others in this well-worn genre is that, according to a person familiar with Mr. MacMillan's version of events, the CEO approached Mr. Parfet and Louise Francesconi, head of the board's governance and nominating committee, in late September seeking their approval to date the employee, Jennifer Koch.
The two directors said that same day that he could so long as she quit, two people familiar with the matter said. Stryker declined to