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CONVol1-53327Access to the corporate jet is perhaps the last big status symbol available to successful executives. That, and maybe investing in a favorite sports team. When the two status symbols appear in one family though, it may be a recipe for a public relations disaster—or at least some awkward questions.

John Brock is the chief executive of Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc. (CCE), a separate entity, managed independently of Coca-Cola Co. Mary Brock is a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, the WNBA franchise from that southern city. The other co-owner of the team is Kelly Loeffler, the vice president of investor relations and corporate communication at IntercontinentalExchange Inc. (ICE), also located in the Atlanta area. Loeffler’s husband Jeffrey Sprecher is the CEO of ICE. The two companies each have access to some of the same jets, because CCE’s aircraft participate in flight-sharing arrangements with other companies.

The logs for those aircraft show that in multiple cases, jets paid for by one or the other of the public companies landed in cities where the Atlanta Dream would be playing that day, at times just before tipoff, then took off soon after the final buzzer, to return home. Thus it appears—though no party has admitted to any wrongdoing—that the executives are using their privileges for personal gain.

According to Mary Brock, her rides on aircraft paid for by CCE have been simply a matter of convenience: Her husband was flying to the cities already, and she just caught a seat on a preset flight pattern. An investigative review cited 15 flights over two years in which Mary Brock flew to a city in which her team was playing.

As is often the case in ethical quandaries, there may be valid arguments on both sides. The stockholders of these public companies want to make sure that they are not paying for a tailgating party in the skies for their CEOs and families—at an average cost of $13,000 per trip from Atlanta to destinations such as New York (home of the Liberty) or Connecticut (where the Sun play). The owners seem to protest that because they would be visiting those cities anyway, bringing along a family member is no burden. The problem for the executives though is that the questions are being raised in the first place. In today’s day and age, no one wants to be the next poster child for wealthy indulgence and corporate malfeasance—especially once the playoffs start.

Source: Mark Maremont and Tom McGinty, “Lines Blur Over Wife’s Use of CEO’s Jets,” The Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2012

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